Agriculture in California: Worth the Water It Uses

Posted June 3rd, 2015

New York Times columnist Mark Bittman defended almonds today, noting that people have been asking him whether to stop eating them due to the drought. Bittman tells them no, and says it’s typical to focus on a miniscule part of a huge problem and see it as the key to fixing everything. He goes on to say that almonds are not the enemy, and the water-use problem isn’t going to be fixed by Americans cutting back on them, “or, for that matter, on the other fruits and vegetables…of which we don’t eat enough.”

Though we don’t agree with everything in his column (for example, agriculture actually uses 41% of California’s developed water, not 80%), we’re pleased to see him tackle the knee-jerk reactions we’ve heard criticizing almonds and more generally, agriculture in California.

In other news, California Secretary of Food and Agriculture, Karen Ross, penned a strong LA Times op-ed earlier this week along with Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center and professor of agricultural and resource economics at UC Davis. Ross and Sumner argue that agriculture in California is worth the water it uses. They examine the various sectors of California’s economy, and the role agriculture directly and indirectly plays. “Granted, all economic sectors have ripple effects and multipliers,” they say. “But unlike most other segments, California’s agricultural productivity and diversity are not readily duplicated elsewhere. Our soils and climate are what have made it possible for us to supply so much of our nation’s and the world’s food.”

They end, “Food is central to California in more than just the nutritional sense. It contributes to nearly every aspect of our economy and our lives, an important point to keep in mind as we weigh what our water is worth during this drought, and the next one.”

It’s good to hear knowledgeable voices like Secretary Ross pointing out the many contributions of California’s agriculture industry, making people more aware of the depth of agriculture’s role in both our economy and our culture.

Both articles are worth a read.