Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Water Wars and Cotton Farmers

There are two issues that I have raised in the past few years concerning the cotton farmers of California.
  • Government price supports for cotton have created the situation where US Cotton was being delivered to the world markets at prices lower than what sub-Saharan Africa could produce.
  • This tax payer subsidized cotton in the San Joaquin Valley of California was soaking up a large amount of our precious water supplies.
I had asked that the Agricultural Plank of the GPCA platform be modified to call for an end to these price supports of commodity crops: cotton, corn, soy beans, wheat, sugar. I had written here before about the need to stop growing cotton in the desert.

Finally, we see signs that both of these positions have been the correct one. It is all in this story by Garance Burke (AP).
Cotton also has lost ground for another reason that became apparent this week as the Senate debated the 2007 farm bill: The United States' cotton
subsidy program is enmeshed in a global trade battle.
Whenever you hear a politician talk about "fair trade" they mean fair for us, not the other guy. It is finally catching up with the US. Unfortunately, it has already done significant damage to those countries that were the victims of such un-fair trade.

We now have the interesting situation where the Democratic Congress, even the environmental Barbara Boxer, is trying to court the favor of Red State Farmers and the Bush Administration is threatening to veto the entire Farm Bill of 2007 until they can hide the problems that this policy has created in some back room secretly negotiated deal.

As a result, Burke tells us some cotton farmers are abandoning the crop.
Growing cotton has rarely been a more risky proposition than it is now, which is precisely why cotton farmer Frank Williams is planning to sow his fields with wheat.

From Williams' California fields to the Texas plains, farmers are plowing under cotton - once the king of U.S. agriculture - to seed crops that make more money.
The real effects on water depends on what crops these farmers intend to grow instead of cotton. The farmer cited in Burke's story is turning to wheat.
We can probably do just as well growing grain with just the same amount of water or less," said Williams, 56, who will uproot all the downy Upland cotton he grows in Firebaugh, along the Central Valley's western edge, leaving in only an organic variety. "It's just not worth it."

This year, cotton acreage nationwide dropped by about 29 percent, hitting a 22-year low at 10.8 million acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Acreage dropped by about 23 percent in Texas, the national leader, and by 19 percent in California, which ranks fourth in domestic production.

The sharpest declines were in the Southeast and Mississippi Delta regions, where drought has parched fields that grew the crop since before the Civil War.
The responsible reaction is to consider how our changing, warming climate is going to affect agriculture and to start making adjustments to crops, water use, etc. now. In fact, as concerns water for agriculture, if the global warming driven changes in rainfall do not force us to do so, then supplying the needs of a growing population will.

The timing is right for more aggressive action by the public (I am taling to you, readers) to tell our congressional delegation that the Farm Bill has to change.

There are several options. The Grassley - Dorgan Amendment would limit the amount of money that any one enterprise might get from these subsidies. This should be at the top of the list. Another option is to change the subsidies to an insurance program.
Still, the threat of billions of dollars in sanctions helped motivate Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., to write an amendment they plan to introduce on the Senate floor next week to eliminate subsidies for cotton and all other commodities and replace them with an insurance-type program that all farmers could participate in.
Not a single one will say that it is time to kill such subsidies. However, we do know that this Farm Bill, as currently written, is a recipe for disaster.

1 comment:

Orval Osborne said...

You are right on! This Farm Bill is especially disappointing because a Democratic Party-controlled Congress claimed they were going to be better. Instead we get the same old corruption - subsidize the wealthy.

Thank you for bringing in the water and sustainability angles to the farm Bill discussion. Congress is missing a huge opportunity to conserve water and move us toward sustainability. Yes, we must protest, especially Senators Boxer and Feinstein.