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USDA Data Dispels Myth that California's West Side Growers 'Feed the Nation'

An "Astroturf" agribusiness group has relentlessly promoted the myth that crops grown on drainage-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley "feed the nation."
 
 
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The "Astroturf" campaign by corporate agribusiness to build a peripheral canal and more dams to increase Delta water exports has relentlessly promoted the myth that crops grown on drainage-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley "feed the nation" or "feed the world." 

The corporate media and even some "alternative" media outlets have bought into this myth in their coverage of the California water wars, portraying the conflict as one between hard-working farmers like those portrayed in the classic Grant Wood painting who only want "feed America" versus "radical environmentalists" who want to protect a "minnow" like the Delta smelt. 

The comments of Sean Hannity, in "The Valley Hope Forgot: California Farmers at Obama's Mercy" show on Fox TV News on September 18, are typical of those that perpetuate the myth that west side San Joaquin Valley farmers "feed America." 

"You are the farmers that have sustained the entire country for decades," said Hannity, surrounded by hundreds of west side growers, bused-in farmworkers and Central Valley Tea Party activists. "We have generations of farmers here. And they are losing their farms. We have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of acres. We literally have -- I met people earlier that now are on food lines because their farms have been shut down." 

Paul Rodriguez, comedian and chair of the Latino Water Coalition, a front for corporate agribusiness, echoed Hannity's comments. "This is the San Joaquin Valley. This is the land of Canaan. This is the most fertile valley on the planet. This valley would feed the world," Rodriguez said. 

However, an examination of the actual economic data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reveals that there is no basis in fact for the contention that west side farmers are the "backbone" of American agriculture. According to a USDA Chart, US gross farm income in 2008 was around $375 billion. 

Westlands Water District, the nation's largest water district, produces $1 billion annually in gross farm income, according to articles by Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee reporter, on November 7, 2009, and Garance Burke, Associated Press writer, on July 31. 

"That means Westlands' contribution to the nation's food supply (and exports) is about a quarter of a percent," said Lloyd Carter, veteran investigative journalist. 

According to this USDA website, net farm income is forecast to be $57 billion in 2009, down $30 billion (34.5 percent) from 2008. The 2009 forecast is $6.5 billion below the average of $63.6 billion in net farm income earned in the previous 10 years. Still, the $57 billion forecast for 2009 remains the eighth largest amount of income earned in U.S. farming. 

"The US gross farm income in 2008 was $375 billion and average net income is $63.6 billion," said Carter. "In other words, the net is about one-sixth of the gross. That means Westlands actually is netting about one-sixth of its claimed $1 billion in farm revenues, or about $150 million a year." 

Carter noted that if you take away the water, power and crop subsidies, you drop that true net increase quite a bit further. The Environmental Working Group estimated Westlands' annual subsidies in 2002 at $110 million a year. 

"That means the true net of the Westlands, when you take away all the government giveways may be only $30-40 million," he concluded. "Now, if you subtract the anticipated costs of drainage and make Westlands pay for their own waste disposal, they may actually not be generating any true wealth out there at all, except what the government gives them." 

 
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