Agri-Musings: The Effects of Retirement

In 1975, I wrote a high school paper on population dynamics. Who knew what an impact that paper would have on my life? From that point on, I looked at everything though the lens of demographics. After I married, my husband and I made financial, family, and work decisions based on how we thought society would be shaped by the age distribution of our population.

Much of what we predicted is coming to pass. Globally, there are competing interests for natural resources. Nationally, the impacts of population growth and increasing urbanization are changing our landscape and the fabric of our society. And the impact of aging baby boomers retiring, en masse, is changing the job market, health care, financial markets, volunteerism, tourism, and how society looks at careers and aging.

In California, rapid retirement of baby boomers will be felt acutely because of over-committed pension funds, the impacts of a rapid “brain drain”, and high-levels of California emigration among retirees.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPCI) Reports:

  • Retirees grew from 3.8 million in 2008 to 5.2 million in 2018 (38% increase).
  • Compare this 38% increase in retirees to the 8% population growth.
  • Retirees were, on the average well-educated. From 2008 to 2018, the education levels of retirees were:
    • ~700,000 people with college degrees
    • ~250,000 people with associate degrees
    • ~ 300,000 people with high school education
  • There are more than 70,000 new retirees with bachelor’s degree each year for the last decade.
  • Only 55,000 new bachelor’s degrees are awarded by the entire University of California system each year.
  • California could see a shortfall of college graduates of 1.1 million by 2030.
  • PPIC claims that the state is increasing funding for increased enrollment, graduation rates, and degrees awarded, but provides no substantiation for these claims.

Johnson, Hans. Many of California’s Highly Educated Workers are Retiring. Public Policy Institute of California. (January 24, 2019)

World Ag Expo, (2/10/17)

The World Ag Expo springs from the earth every February in Tulare, California, in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. It is the World’s Fair of All-Things-Ag that occurs It is composed of several barns and acres of exhibits of all types.

The flags of all the countries represented at the World Ag Expo line the entrance.
The flags of all the countries represented at the World Ag Expo line the entrance.
Big Equipment.
Big equipment!
Bright Colors!
What is a tractor discussion without at least one guy putting his foot up so that he has a place to rest his arm?
After walking for hours looking at equipment, one works up an appetite. The Sundale School definitely had the largest crowd at their food booth.
After walking for hours looking at equipment, one works up an appetite. The Sundale School definitely had the largest crowd at their food booth.
The Tulare area was settled by Azorean Portuguese dairymen. This food booth pays homage to this culture.
The Tulare area was settled by Azorean Portuguese dairymen. This food booth pays homage to this culture.

Agri-Musings: Social Indicators in the SJV

My car was robbed in Modesto while I was attending a Fertilizer Research Education Program Seminar in 2016. Shortly after I discovered the broken window and rummaged baggage, I had lunch with a friend who lives in the area. When I told her about my car, she launched into a diatribe about poverty and social ills in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV).

She passionately believes that the State of California abdicated its responsibilities by not providing adequate incentives for California industries, in particular, Internet Technologies, to invest in the SJV in the late Twentieth Century. It was easier and very NIMBY-esque to export dirty jobs overseas. Consequently, Agriculture became the principal, and in some cases, the sole, employer in many SJV communities. Today, as the state and courts coordinate efforts to radically reduce Agriculture’s footprint in the SJV, negative indicators of social health are skyrocketing in these Ag-dependent communities.

I was intrigued. So, I did some homework. This 2015 article summarizes the unemployment situation in the San Joaquin Valley. It is notable that in 2015, fourteen of 25 US cities with the highest unemployment were in California. Ten of those cities were in the San Joaquin Valley.,

California, as a whole, has a major issue with poverty. Estimates indicate that about 4 in 10 people in California live in or on the edge of poverty. When income is actualized for housing prices, poverty levels (on a percentage basis) are roughly equal across the state.

Not withstanding widespread poverty, many other social indicators are poorer in the SJV. So much so, that the US State Department is concerned the deteriorating social conditions are creating an unstable third world country within the US, that could pose a potential national security threat.

Reposted from Facebook, November 3, 2016

Agri-Stats: Postive Impacts of Agriculture

Go Ag!

On a national level, Ag exports helped lift the US economic growth to an annualized rate of 2.9 percent in the third quarter, from 1.1 percent in the first half of 2016. “Real exports grew 10.0 percent in the third quarter, their fastest quarterly growth since 2013.”

This is positive evidence that a vibrant agricultural sector is necessary for, and contributes to, a sound U.S. economy. 

Reposted from Facebook, October 31, 2016

Agri-Musings: Departing Dairies

The real question is whether the demise of the California Dairy is just the canary in the mine and predicts what may befall many agricultural sectors in California’s future?  
Reposted from Facebook, October 28, 2016

Agri-Musings: Irrigators Are Artists!

Irrigators are true artists. Their tools are a shovel, water-proof boots, and the patience to repeatedly apply small tweaks to large irrigation systems, every single day. 
For example, consider sprinkler irrigation. Precise pipe placement is critical in order to achieve irrigation uniformity. The pipe must be set in such a way that it doesn’t leave dry/wet patterns in the field. The pipe may be set in a square grid or in an offset diamond pattern to accommodate the wind, weather, and soil conditions. Dry/wet patterns will be constantly tweaked to keep the field uniformly moist.
The irrigators trudge across the beds when it is blazing hot; slog through mud on shivery foggy mornings; and lean into gusts when the wind is blowing a gale.
We should honor the lowly irrigator! Without him, and his knowledge, it would be impossible to produce the miraculously uniform, spectacular produce that we, so often, take for granted.
Reposted from Facebook, Oct 26, 2016

Agri-Musings: Achieving Uniformity

Automated Lettuce Thinner

Each lettuce plant must be ready to pick on the same day. This can only be done by achieving uniformity. Acheiving uniformity is an intricate process. Every facet of lettuce production from seed selection, tillage, bed shaping, planting, irrigation, and cultivation has a goal of uniformity.

It is critical to have a specified number of plants per acre.  Each lettuce plant must have a specified area in which to grow; and therefore, uniform plant spacing is absolutely critical. HIstorically, uniform plant spacing was only obrtained by lettuce thinning by hand. This process was labor-intensive, time-consuming, and expensive, and was only feasible with an sufficient labor supply. 

However, with today’s labor shortages, growers are doing all they can to increase efficiencies. One new technology being employed by lettuce growers is an automatic lettuce thinner. The thinner sprays a solution, composed of either a contact herbicide or high-concentrations of nitrate fertilizer. This can be done using camera technology or a predetermined “footprint”. This increases precision without having to resort to the use of hand-hoe crews. 

Take a look at one company that is innovating lettuce thinning. .

It’s the combination of many technical advances that create big evolutions!

Reposted from Facebook, October 13, 2016

Agri-Musing: Feeding the World

“Yes, we stand accused of viewing feeding the world as a moral imperative. That’s an accusation to which we will plead guilty with great pride,” said  Bob Young, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Quote from Politico’s Morning Ag, October 6, 2016
Facebook Repost: Oct 11, 2016 9:12pm

Agri-Stats: 2016

U.S. Agricultural Stats (2016) : 

  • Less than 2% of the U.S. population is involved with farming 
  • 1940, the average farmer produced food and fiber for 19 people, while in 2016, the average farmer produces enough food and fiber for 160 people.
  • In reality, today, over 96% of U.S. farms are family operations.
  • Today, there are about 912 million crop acres in the U.S.
  • In the US, there are about 2.1 million farms
  • When permanent grasslands and timber are added, there are about 2 billion acres in agriculture in the U.S. in 2016
  • Today, only 37% of Americans believe that most farms are family-run (That’s one of the findings from the International Food Informaiton Council’s annual survey of consumers).
  • In the U.S. farmers and ranchers receive less than $0.16 for every retail food dollar consumers pay.

Excerpts from Monterey County Farm Bureau, Farm Focus

Reposted from Facebook, June 13, 2016

Agri-Musings: Stuff Happens on the Farm

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.