The Perfect Storm; Grow Local or Grow Hungry?
By Jamie Lee
Most of us who live in the United States have always assumed that our food would be available in abundance at our commercial grocery stores at affordable prices, at least for the past three generations. Most have never spent a thought about what they would do if their basic weekly food staples became unavailable and/or priced out of affordability to all except those in the upper class of our society.
Back in the early 1900’s, 44% of the country were farmers and 22% of our net income was spent to put food on the table. Today less than 2% of the jobs in this country involve farming and 7% of middle class income on average is spent on food. This is in large part due to the just-in-time industrial globalization of food supply, large food subsidies to Big Ag doled out by our government, and the creation of synthetically modified “foodstuff” through biotechnology since 1966.
A Perfect Storm is upon us this spring 2014 in California and well beyond.
The gale force storm is likely to blow serious price changes to the price and availability of our basic foods through the months and years ahead due to several different factors that affect food costs and availability, or as called in businessese ,“structural prices change”. This March of 2014 has seen the largest increase in beef and veal prices since 2003 while milk prices globally are hitting all-time record highs. According to the U.S. Labor Department, since the end of 2013, lean hog prices have risen 42.5%, oats 29%, cocoa 11.8%, wheat 11.9%, cattle meat 11.4% and raw sugar 3.9%.
As what happens in many a crisis’ it is not usually one catastrophic event that causes great disruptions and significant abrupt change in lifestyles, but many times seemingly random unrelated events occurring simultaneously or in quick succession, which can cause great upheaval and long-term deviation from previous periods of seemingly long-term normalcy.
Additionally, weather-wise, history shows us that there are long periods of constant and consistent “Goldie Locks” planetary environments which have been followed by sudden, abrupt rapid climate changes. We appear to now be one of those times as the Eastern half of the U.S. endures an endless winter while Californian records historical drought conditions, yet to our immediate North, Oregon has recorded record cold snows this past winter. Globally, it is much the same story. Europe is blasted this winter with massive winds and storms while Alaska reports 40 degree above normal temps and Australia has to reset their color coded weather warnings to accommodate never before seen temperatures that reached 130 degrees this summer.
California officials who manage the State Water Project announced in early March that they won’t be releasing any water for farmers, marking a first in its 54-year history.
Farmers are hit hardest, but they’re not alone. Contractors that provide cities with water can expect to receive half of their usual amount, the Bureau said, and wildlife refuges that need water flows in rivers to protect endangered fish will receive 40 percent of their contracted supply.
3300 water contractors that provide farmers with water and hold historic agreements giving them senior rights will receive 40 percent of their normal supplies. Some contracts date back over a century and guarantee that farmers will receive at least 75 percent of their water.
One of those is the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority in Los Banos that provides irrigation for 240,000 acres of farmland. The Water Authority’s executive director Steve Chedester said farmers he serves understand that the reality of California’s drought means it’s going to be tough to find enough water for them. “They’re taking a very practical approach,” he said. “If it’s not there, it’s just not there.”
For the State of California, most in the state are critically dependent on what water comes off the Sierra and as noted above there will not be very much water to allocate.
The snowpack – often called California’s largest reservoir – normally provides about a third of the water used by cities and farms as it melts into streams and reservoirs in spring and early summer.
California’s major reservoirs, mostly bereft of both snow and rain this winter as the drought pushes through its third year, are dangerously low. Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project’s (SWP) principal reservoir, is at only 39 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity (57 percent of its historical average for the date). Shasta Lake north of Redding, California’s and the federal Central Valley Project’s (CVP) largest reservoir, is at 38 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity capacity (52 percent of its historical average). San Luis Reservoir, a critical south-of-Delta reservoir for both the SWP and CVP, is at a mere 33 percent of its 2 million acre-foot capacity (39 percent of average for this time of year).
With no end to the drought in sight, DWR on January 31 set its allocation of State Water Project water at zero. The only previous zero percent allocation (water delivery estimate) was for agriculture in the drought year of 1991, but cities that year received 30 percent of requested amounts. This is the first time the allocation has been set at zero across the board. (Source)