"This is a crisis, and it's a worsening crisis," said A.G. Kawamura,California's secretary of food and agriculture. "The federal government needs to understand this [will have] a major impact on America's food supply, on the nation's food security."
Yet even as growers fallow thousands of acres and lay off workers, farm
employment in Fresno County is the highest in a decade -- and agricultural
production hit a record value in 2008. What's going on?
There's no doubt that water restrictions hurt employment on the west side, said David Sunding, a professor of agriculture and resource economics at the University of California at Berkeley and director of Berkeley Economic Consulting Inc. Moreover, it's still too early to see effects of the water shortage in employment and farm revenue statistics, Sunding said. He expects the numbers will get worse. "We need to see what the data says six months from now."
But Jeffrey Michael, an economist from Stockton's University of the Pacific, believes farmers are exaggerating the effect of federal water restrictions. Unemployment always has been high on the west side, and the recession has taken a heavy toll, he said.
One economist argues that agricultural employment is an unreliable indicator of economic health because there's no distinction in the state figures between part-time or piece work and a full-time job. "It doesn't mean the total wealth as a result of those farm jobs has gone up," even if employment has increased this year, said Richard Howitt, a professor of agricultural resource economics at UC Davis.
I don't really disagree with what Sunding and Howitt say here. I do disagree about the magnitude of the effect.
The Fresno Bee also ran a good commentary by Bill McEwan, "Anger alone won't solve the Valley's water woes."
It was a warm October night, and the hall on 13th Street in Firebaugh was packed with people. They had come to voice frustration about the "man-made drought," fallowed land and lost jobs.
That was five years ago. Little has changed.
But, Steve Geil, president of Economic Development Corp. serving Fresno County, says that the west side is poised for an economic turnaround. Geil says the revolution already is taking shape on the west side, with scores of well-paying jobs added to the Firebaugh/Mendota area. He points out that farm jobs are increasing in Fresno County and that the county economy "outperformed" the state economy in March and April.
Granted, Geil is a salesman. But I'd rather buy into his upbeat assessment of the future than to listen to more of the doom-and-gloom-holding-on-to-yesterday mantra of the Westlands crowd.
For once, let's get ahead of the game. Let's think more, vent less. Let's behave like adults instead of railing against ourselves and the world.