FarmPolicy

December 11, 2019

Drought Issues Continue in California- LA Times Front Page

A pair of articles on the front page of Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times highlighted additional variables relating to ongoing drought concerns in the Golden State.

Bettina Boxall reported that, “Parts of the San Joaquin Valley are deflating like a tire with a slow leak as growers pull more and more water from the ground. The land subsidence is cracking irrigation canals, buckling roads and permanently depleting storage space in the vast aquifer that underlies California’s heartland.

“The overpumping has escalated during the past drought-plagued decade, driving groundwater levels to historic lows in some places. But in a large swath of the valley, growers have been sucking more water from its sands and clays than nature or man puts back for going on a century.

They are eroding their buffer against future droughts and hastening the day, experts warn, when they will be forced to let more than a million acres of cropland turn to dust because they have exhausted their supplies of readily available groundwater.”

The article noted that, “Until last year, California didn’t have a statewide groundwater law, making it an outlier in the West. The legislation, intended to end unsustainable groundwater use, won’t do that any time soon. Agricultural interests opposed the regulations, which call for the creation of local groundwater agencies that have more than two decades to fully comply.

“In the meantime, it’s easier for growers to keep pumping than rein in their use. ‘Telling people they have to stop irrigating is a huge economic thing,’ said Charles Burt, chairman of the Irrigation Training and Research Center at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. ‘Guys are going to get their guns out. If you were farming, you wouldn’t take that very lightly.’

When Burt compares the annual groundwater overdraft in the valley with crop water usage, he figures that 1 million to 1.5 million acres will go out of production in coming years. ‘There are just more straws in there than there is water,’ he said. ‘It’s been going on for a long time.'”

Wednesday’s article added that, “The greatest subsidence related to groundwater extraction ever recorded in the U.S. is on the valley’s west side, where the water table plunged 400 feet in the early and mid-20th century. The accompanying soil compaction caused an area southwest of Mendota to sink more than 28 feet. In a now famous 1977 photo, Poland stood by a telephone pole affixed with signs far above his head indicating where the ground had been in 1955 and 1925.

“The subsidence largely stopped and groundwater levels rebounded in many areas after the arrival of federal and state irrigation deliveries, which provided growers with cheaper, better water.

But even when the water table recovers, subsided basins can’t hold as much water as they did previously. Soil compaction can permanently reduce the pore space between clay particles, leaving less room for groundwater.”

Ms. Boxall explained that, “It is the economics of having to go deeper and deeper for groundwater that will ultimately force growers to retire land. It’s not that the Central Valley’s thick aquifer will run dry. Scientists estimate that it holds roughly 800 million acre-feet of water that seeped deep into the valley’s sands and clays over millenniums from streams and rivers swollen with runoff from the neighboring Sierra Nevada and coastal ranges.

Farmers will instead run out of water they can afford to pump.”

In a separate article on the front page of today’s LA Times, Ms. Boxall reported that, “With California heading into another parched year, state officials Tuesday beefed up emergency drought regulations, directing urban agencies to limit the number of days residents can water their yards.

“The move is expected to have little or no effect in most major Southern California cities, which already have watering restrictions. The statewide effects are difficult to gauge, as regulators don’t know how many local agencies lack limits.”

Wall Street Journal writer Jim Carlton also reported on this development and noted that, “State officials said they felt compelled to adopt the new rules, and extend others passed last summer, including a ban on allowing sprinkler runoff into streets, because of the growing severity of one of California’s worst droughts. Reservoirs in the state sit at less than 60% capacity following a fourth consecutive dry winter, which has left the state’s mountain snowpack at a record low of less than 20% of the historical average.

“Officials said that while Californians have largely heeded Gov. Jerry Brown’s calls to conserve more—saving enough since last June to meet the needs of a city of two million for a year—it hasn’t been enough. In part, the water managers are frustrated by statewide surveys that show a declining conservation rate recently after initial strong compliance.”

Meanwhile, Adam Nagourney reported in Wednesday’s New York Times that, “The rainy season drove into California in December with wet and windy promise: soaking rain, snow, dark gray skies and a flash of hope that the drought that has scorched this region had run its course. And then came January — with record high temperatures and record low rainfall.

And now, as the end of the official rainy season approaches — this state gets 90 percent of its water from December through April, most of it in December and January — California is facing a punishing fourth year of drought. Temperatures in Southern California soared to record-high levels over the weekend, approaching 100 degrees in some places. Reservoirs are low. Landscapes are parched and blighted with fields of dead or dormant orange trees. And the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which is counted on to provide 30 percent of the state’s water supply as it melts through early summer, is at its second-lowest level on record.”

The New York Times article also included a link to this video:

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Wednesday Morning Update: Policy- Budget Issues, Ag Economy; and, Regulations

Budget- Policy Issues

Jonathan Weisman reported in today’s New York Times that, “House Republicans called it streamlining, empowering states or ‘achieving sustainability.’ They couched deep spending reductions in any number of gauzy euphemisms.

“What they would not do on Tuesday was call their budget plan, which slashes spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years, a ‘cut.’

The 10-year blueprint for taxes and spending they formally unveiled would balance the federal budget, even promising a surplus by 2024, but only with the sort of sleights of hand that Republicans have so often derided.”

The Times article added that, “The House Budget Committee will formally draft the budget on Wednesday, as Senate Republicans unveil their counteroffer. Like the House version, the Senate’s will balance in 10 years, aides to Republicans senators said. Like the House, the Senate will include language to help lawmakers repeal or reshape the Affordable Care Act this year. How the two chambers resolve their differences could be a central drama in Washington throughout the spring.”

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House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee Budget Hearing, Under Secretary Kevin Concannon- Food, Nutrition

Categories: Budget /Nutrition

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee heard USDA budget related testimony from Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, Kevin Concannon.

During his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) indicated that, “USDA’s nutrition programs account for 75 percent of total resources in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill. Your request for fiscal year 2016 is approximately $112.4 billion, a $2.1 billion increase above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is USDA’s largest program serving more than 46 million people per month with a requested program level of $83.7 billion. For Child Nutrition Programs the President’s budget projects that total funding needs will approach $21.6 billion in fiscal year 2016 – a $2.2 billion increase since fiscal year 2014. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, accounts for the single largest discretionary program in the bill. The budget proposes level funding for WIC at $6.6 billion to meet the estimated 8.5 million participants each month.”

He added that, “The President’s budget proposes cuts to the crop insurance program, and Secretary Vilsack said in an interview that this proposal was a way to help keep projected farm bill savings on track. But in case the Administration missed it, farm bill nutrition savings are not materializing as projected either, so where in this budget is a proposal to ensure the nutrition savings stay on track?”

Chairman Aderholt also noted that, “And finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of your role in making sure the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are strictly focused on dietary and nutrient recommendations. The most current science must be used and the statutory directive must be followed – and this goes beyond just sustainability and statements on meat consumption. While I appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s comments that he understands his role and he knows he has to follow the law – and Commissioner Hamburg from the Food and Drug Administration made similar statements two weeks ago – that message needs to be clear throughout the entire Administration.”

At the hearing, Under Secretary Concannon indicated that the Department would grant a short-term 30 day comment period extension for the report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

More detail in this issue was fleshed out during the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing:

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Senate Appropriations Ag Subcommittee Hearing with Sec. Vilsack

The Senate Appropriations Ag Subcommittee heard testimony on Tuesday from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about the FY16 USDA budget request.  During the discussion portion of hearing three key issues were discussed relating to Dietary Guidelines, Crop Insurance and Bird Flu.

Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) indicated in his opening statement yesterday that, “Agriculture remains one of the bright spots in our nation’s economy, supporting more than 16 million jobs nationwide and forming the backbone of our rural communities. American farmers and ranchers are the best at what they do when given the opportunity to compete on an even playing field.

“After a long, arduous process and a great deal of economic uncertainty, Congress enacted the Agricultural Act of 2014 one year ago. The Farm Bill authorized sweeping changes to commodity and crop insurance programs, consolidated and reinforced conservation efforts, and reauthorized vital research and rural development programs. Agriculture is Kansas’s #1 industry – directly responsible for 37% of the state’s economy. Enactment of a new Farm Bill was welcome news for producers, research institutions, and rural communities in my home state.”

Sec. Vilsack indicated that, “The Department has completed implementation of many new Farm Bill authorities. This includes major new safety net programs providing certainty to American agricultural producers going into the 2015 crop year. We have made available over $5 billion in critical assistance to producers across the country since sign-up for the disaster programs began on April 15, 2014. Significant new crop insurance protections were also made available. America’s new and beginning farmers and ranchers, veteran farmers and ranchers, and women and minority farmers and ranchers were given improved access to credit.”

Sec. Vislack pointed out that, “The Administration strongly supports the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other critical programs that reduce hunger and help families meet their nutritional needs. SNAP is the cornerstone of the Nation’s nutrition assistance safety net, touching the lives of millions of low-income Americans, the majority of whom are children, the elderly, or people with disabilities. SNAP kept over 5 million people, including nearly 2.2 million children, out of poverty in 2013. Recent research has shown that SNAP not only helps families put food on the table, but it has a positive long-term impact on children’s health and education outcomes. We also support the ongoing implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Over 90 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the new nutrition standards, serving meals with more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, and less sodium and fat.”

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