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Farming California Style


Fri, Apr 20th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, April 9, 2001

Anyone listening to the news lately could make a fair assumption that California has been having many resource problems in their recent history. What most people donít realize is how it affects Californiaís farm economy. The water shortage and electricity black outs are two examples of Californiaís ongoing problems.

If you look into the future just fifty years, the number one bargaining commodity wonít be computers, technology, cars, land, oil, petroleum, or fuel of any sort for that matter. The hot item of the century will be fresh water. Minnesota will capitalize on this great asset of having the largest fresh water source in the world right at our doorstep. But guess who wonít: California. California is one of the most populated states in America, checking in at 33 million residents. Even more impressive than their population numbers is the fact that they are producing more dairy products and fluid milk than even Wisconsin, the dairy capital of the United States. San Joaqin Valley, California, has also been named the largest agriculture area in the nation because of the amount of production and diversity found there.

How does this relate to the water shortage? Farmers depend on water for everything. Dairy cows cannot produce milk without water. Livestock of any sort need water to survive. Irrigation has become a way of life for crop farmers in the hot, dry deserts of the southwest.

In the dairy business, farmers came up with an ingenious idea for mastitis control. Barns with cows milking 1,000 to 12,000 cows are using back-flush systems. The only problem with this is the tremendous amount of water used. In a barn milking ten thousand cows three times a day, 60,000 gallons of water are used each day; and this is just one farm. There may be dozens of other farms within the same county doing the exact same thing. Some of this water is reused for other purposes, such as parlor cleanup and manure flushing, but it is still several thousand gallons of water. And they wonder why they have water shortages!

Also popular in dairy farms is cooling cows with misters stationed throughout the barns. Although they donít appear to use much water, misters do go through quite a bit, most of which evaporates into the arid heat before it reaches the cows.

Water is sure taking its toll on southwestern agriculture. Without the water, farmers are packing their bags.

Another recent problem is their energy shortages. Rolling blackouts are becoming a daily recurrence for California. Why? Itís the technology. Computer sales have gone through the roof. In just about every home there is a computer and that computer is probably turned on at least once a day for at least half an hour. In public places, there are hundreds of computers and idle machines that run eight hours a day or more. Just in Lanesboro High School alone, there are about fifty more computers than there were five years ago. Every computer there runs ten hours each day; most of the time they arenít being used. Now picture a California school more than 50 times larger than Lanesboro. They are using an exceedingly high amount of electricity. The California electric plants, which havenít expanded in more than ten years, didnít prepare for this kind of demand.

As result, it is hurting agriculture the most. The dairy farms and processing plants are reeling the most. Even without electricity the cows still have to be milked. How is this accomplished when there are 10,000 of them? This is where generators step in. Some farms have them, others donít. To find a generator and engines capable of fueling a ten thousand-cow dairy farm, however, is a rarity. Without electricity, they canít keep the milk cool. Some plants have had to dump thousands of gallons of milk in the past couple of weeks because they lacked electricity.

Another electric problem for livestock farmer is the fact that most water drinking units are powered by electric. Gas pumps can be used to pump water, but farmers only put up with this for so long.

Cattle also suffer because farmers are not able to run their feed equipment, such as augers and mixers, which are run by electricity.

Just these two examples are enough to scare me out of farming in California. Maybe this great agriculture state isnít all its cracked up to be.

By Amy Hazel

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