Rural Realities

Things happen on the farm that simply do not happen in other places. Here are a few examples of zany events that I have collected over the past 6 years that I have been consulting for private growers.

• A client found a dead lady on his property. All work had to stop until it was determined if the remains were aboriginal.
• A contract harvest crewman came to work drunk and stole a grower’s tractor. He proceeded to run into a light pole and knock out power to thousands of people.
• Recently, two men stole an irrigator’s ATV, and when the thieves were pursued by field workers, the thieves discharged a shotgun, multiple times, at the field staff.
• A female intern PCA was carjacked at gunpoint.
• A field supervisor stepped into a portapotty located near a paved road. A passing bicyclist decided he needed a vehicle, threw his bicycle in the back of the truck, and stole the fieldman’s pickup truck.
• A contractor was driving a water truck that clipped a light pole, which fell into a freshly fumigated field. Power was interrupted to 25-30,000 people and several food-processing facilities. One facility reported it was losing $100,000/hour. However, PG&E could not go into the field to restore power because of the fumigant’s re-entry restrictions. Eventually, PG&E received permission from the Ag Commissioner later in the evening.
• A horserider trespassed on a ranch and the horse slipped into an irrigation reservoir and the rider was drowned.
• Rural theft is epidemic:
o It is common for metal wiring in wells to be stripped to be sold for salvage.
o Irrigation brass sprinkler heads are stolen to be sold for salvage.
o Solar panels disappear within days of installation.

These stories show that growers truly struggle with different realities and challenges than the other 98% of the society.

While farming is more precise than 10 years ago, farms are not engineered systems. Food is produced in spite of Mother Nature or despite human nature.

California Growers Used High School Students for Farm Labor

California Growers have struggled with labor issues – well – since the Spaniards arrived!

First, farm labor was composed of the Native American Neophytes. Then, it was the Chinese. Then the Japanese, Filipinos, and Sikhs. Then, the Mexicans. Then, the Okies. Then, the Mexicans (again). Then, it was High School Students???

This is an interesting article about just one of the many labor experiments that have been attempted in an effort to secure a consistent labor force.

Agri-Musings: Central Coast Boots

These Boots are Made for Farming!

I was standing in a barn yesterday. Listening to growers talk about how they farm in order to bring the highest quality salad veggies to your plate. I looked down and was moved by these boots. How do we estimate the value of these boots? By the millions of people who are fed nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables every day? Or by the incredible immigrant success stories here: second generation Okie and Portuguese, third generation Swiss Italian, Swede, and Japanese? Or by the growers’ refusal to give up in light of seemingly insurmountable challenges? These boots epitomize the American dream in so many (apolitical) ways.

June 28, 2018

Agri-Musings: Ag Tech

Most of the Ag Tech investment discussed in this article is occurring in the MidWest where there are tremendous acreage and opportunity. After that, comes the Pacific Northwest and the San Joaquin Valley.
Unfortunately, the Salinas Valley, with its paltry 200,000 irrigated acres of 250 different crops and its complicated farming systems, has not been that attractive to investors.

Agri-Musings: Words that Ring True Today

In 1926, as National Grange master, L.J.Taber, former Director of Agriculture for Ohio traveled to Rome as a U.S. delegate to the International Institute of Agriculture and was selected to represent the English-speaking delegates at a banquet. Farm and Dairy reprinted part of his remarks.

They are worth repeating more than 90 years later.

“Agriculture is basic and fundamental; without it, there is neither food, fiber nor the hope of continued civilization. The farmer is the foundation upon which rests the whole superstructure of the world’s civilization. Our happiness, our prosperity, our future are dependent upon food and the product of the farmer’s toil.

“If we study the increase of the world population in the last 200 years, and even project it through another century, we must recognize that the wisest statesmanship and the most far-seeing vision of our greatest minds must, within the coming 100 years, be directed towards seeing that mankind may have its daily bread.

“There is much that governments can do, much that education and scientific agencies can accomplish and there is much left for individual organizations; but in the final analysis, the feeding of the nations is dependent upon the toilers in the fields, the farms, the gardens and the forests of the inhabited portions of the earth.

“Organized agriculture is bringing into being a new consciousness of the relationship of the farmers to their vocation and their larger responsibility to civilization. …

… Organized agriculture must lead the farmers, the business world and the financial world to a realization of their interdependence. Our interests are in concord and not in conflict. We will go forward or slip backward all together.

“Four major goals should have the hearty support of us all: Through education and scientific assistance to increase the efficiency of the individual producer; Through cooperative and collective action and through sound business operation to enlarge the financial reward of the farmer; To increase the efficiency and reduce the costs of government, because heavy taxation is a grievous burden to agriculture throughout the world; To conserve the fertility of the soil and of our natural resources for generations yet unborn.”

Agri-Musings: Statistics

Ag Stats

  • Today, there are about 2.1 million farms in the U.S.
  • Today, there are about 912 million farm acres in the U.S.
  • When permanent grasslands and timber are added, there are about 2 billion acres in agriculture in the U.S. 
  • Today, only 37% of Americans believe that most farms are family-run (That’s one of the findings from the International Food Information Council’s annual survey of consumers).
  • In reality, over 96% of U.S. farms are family operations.
  • 1940, the average farmer produced food and fiber for 19 people
  • 2016, the average farmer produces food and fiber for 160 people.
  • Less than 2% of the U.S. population is involved with farming;
  • but 40-45% of all jobs are rooted in farming (I am not quite sure what this means…)
  • In the U.S. farmers and ranchers earn $0.16 for every retail food dollar consumers spend.

Excerpts from Monterey County Farm Bureau, Farm Focus

Reposted from Jun 13, 2016 3:26pm Facebook Post

Agri-Musings: I AM smarter today…

I AM smarter than yesterday.

I learned about a cool project in Canada that installed traditional groundwater remediation “barrier” and in-situ biological treatments between an agricultural field and a municipal drinking water well to reduce nitrate levels to below drinking water nitrate standards.

And I learned that one of the biggest obstacles to recycling water is establishing whether someone else has a water right claim to the water. That is an issue I would never have considered.

I heard about a great water recharge project that had everything going for it: funding, water availability, willing partners, ability to meet California Environmental Quality Act requirements, etc. and it still was not enough to make the groundwater basin sustainable. So, what if everything we are able to do is not enough? What if there are just too many people and too many expectations and demands for water so that there is constant overdraft. What then?

Reposted from Jun 29, 2016, 6:41 am Facebook Posts

Agri-Musings: Careers

There are so many careers in Agriculture: Farming, Sales, Marketing, Flying, Monitoring, Filling out tons of Sustainability Documents, Journalism, Art, PR, Advocacy, Law, Public Service, Medicine, Human Health and Safety, HR, Internet Technologies, Genetics, Regulatory Compliance, Pest Management, Banking, Insurance, Engineering, Etc.!

What is so cool about this industry is that as person gains a certain amount of knowledge, you can move between industry segments for a rich, rewarding career. 

Networking is essential. It is a small world but a global community.

Agri-Musings: What about our rural communities?

Painful adjustments will be made by agriculture over the next few years. That much is clear. 

“Richard Walker, a geography professor at the University of California, Berkeley, says that regardless of who is winning politically ‘there’s really no more water to be squeezed out of the system.” Given water storage limitations, he says the only solution is to conserve more land. “Two million acres out of 11 [million acres] have already ceased irrigating over the last 30 years and there’s no reason we can’t let another 1-2 [million acres] go,” he says. “California agriculture overall will still be enormous.” (Jopson)

Ok. Then. What is not clear is what California plans to do with the small rural communities who are economically dependent on Ag in these fallowed areas? Where are the plans to sustain these communities or help them transition? 

Jopson, Barney. Battle Lines in California’s Water Wars Are Redrawn in Trump Era. Financial Times. December 9, 2016 (The article is not available online without subscription)