Nov 29, 2022 | Blog

In The News

Food Security Concerns
Depend on Balanced Water Policy.

Policy Makers Must Understand the Importance of
Western Irrigated Agriculture.

Without balance among water uses, Western ranches and farms cannot continue to operate. Consumers will see shortages at the store, even higher prices, be forced to rely more heavily on increasingly unstable foreign sources, or all of these at the same time. And once the grocery shelves are bare, it will be too late.

Balanced Water Policy Needed for the Sacramento Valley

Over 80% of our country’s fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown west of the Rockies. Nearly ¾ of the nation’s production value for cattle and calves occurs in the 17 Western states, according to the USDA Economic Research Services’ Farm Income and Wealth Statistics.

Unfortunately, current government policies are putting that food supply, and the farms that produce it, at risk. In addition to produce and beef, poultry and dairy are also at risk.

This year, 600 square miles of farmland was fallowed on the west-side of California’s Sacramento Valley, which is more than 370,000 acres of farmland, nearly 80% of the total farmland in this service area. Colusa County, which is known for its amazing rice production and the environmental benefits it provides, had almost no rice planted this year.

Colusa County Supervisors Denise Carter and Daurice Kalfsbeek Smith are encouraging policy makers and the public to view a short five-minute film on the devastating impacts we have seen this year in Colusa County as a result of the drought. The film can be watched here.

The Supervisors call on state and federal policy makers to make sure their communities never suffer like this again.

“We need more balanced policies on water that will prioritize water for farms, the people in our small disadvantaged communities, and the fish and wildlife that rely upon our farms and refuges for their food and safe haven”, the Supervisors said.

Check out this excellent blog posted by our friends at the Northern California Water Association: “We need a balanced water policy for the Sacramento Valley”.

Photo credit of dry year fallow (above): Northern California Water Association

Standing Up for Alfalfa

With drought conditions continuing to blanket the Western U.S., and farmers struggling to find adequate water supplies, competing interests are pressuring the federal government to cut the water supply farmers are using to grow our food, including alfalfa, which is a foundational food chain crop.

In response, the Family Farm Alliance and California Farm Water Coalition have produced a White Paper titled, “Our Food Supply at Risk; The Importance of Alfalfa Production in the American West,” detailing the valuable role alfalfa plays as a principal feed source for the nation’s livestock and diary industries, its environmental benefits, and contribution to effective drought management.

The November 11, 2022 edition of the Salt Lake Tribune included a feature story on this topic. While it includes predictable argument that water used for alfalfa in Utah might instead be applied to “higher and better” uses – such as urban development – overall, the article is balanced, and includes the views of farmers, ranchers and agronomists who point to the pivotal role this high-protein plant plays in rural communities, not to mention its broad environmental benefits. When managed properly, alfalfa cultivation also improves soil and reduces carbon emissions.

Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen earlier this month presented this paper – “Facing the Realities of Water Limitations in Western US for Forage Crops” – to the World Alfalfa Congress conference in San Diego.

“Alfalfa is grown as livestock feed for the beef and dairy industries, both of which contribute to a balanced diet, including high protein foods, such as beef, milk, and milk products, such as yogurt, butter, cheese, ice cream, and cottage cheese,” said Mr. Keppen. “At a time when consumers are facing record inflation and sticker shock every time they to go to the grocery store, it makes no sense to aggravate the problem and drive prices even higher by cutting out a vital component of our food supply.”

Photo credit (above): Klamath Water Users Association

Don’t Throw the Baby Out With the Flood Irrigation Water

The Bear River is the major sustaining water source for the Great Salt Lake—and the millions of people who depend on the water in that system. Drought and a rapidly receding shoreline mean that cries for water savings and reduced agricultural water use throughout the watershed are growing louder.

Flood irrigators often bear the brunt of this pressure. Many are converting to pivot or sprinkler systems to reduce the amount of water they need. But, in some places, this conversion is impractical and could even be damaging to the watershed.

The fields flooded by ranchers in the Bear River Watershed, like flood-irrigated agricultural operations in many headwaters systems of the Intermountain West, are often located in historic wetland footprints along riparian corridors where seasonal flooding fills sponge-like floodplains.

In many cases, flood irrigation mimics natural spring flooding cycles and thus often sustains the wetland function of these landscapes.

Read more about the importance of flood irrigation and “the myth of efficiency” in certain locales in “Don’t throw the baby out with the flood irrigation water”, an excellent piece written by Emily Downing for the Western Landowners Alliance “On Land” publication. Emily is the Water 4 Communications Specialist for our friends at the Intermountain West Joint Venture, which conserves migratory bird habitat through partnerships.

The success of the Family Farm Alliance is rooted in the passionate and creative work of our members. We’ll continue to share examples of their good work with you.

We will continue to keep you informed on this and other developments impacting Western irrigated agriculture.
If you’re not a member, join us!