Farm Progress

What if California stopped growing food for consumers?

March 24, 2015

2 Min Read
<p><span>Mature cabbage and red and yellow onions for sale at Jack London Square, Oakland, Calif.&nbsp;<a href="">USDA photo by Lance Cheung.</a></span></p>

What would American’s eat less of if California farmers stopped growing food?

America may be painfully close to discovering that answer given the state’s epic drought and the political unwillingness to create a long-term water supply.

I’m not predicting the demise of agriculture – not yet, but a couple phone conversations I had recently suggested a shift in tone from those within agriculture that are much closer to the issue.

A story at asks the question “what would we eat if we didn’t have California.” It’s a good one and one worth having at the national policy level for a host of reasons.

While I sometimes try to avoid statistics as they can be dry and send the reader elsewhere, they’re important so bear with me.

If California were to stop producing food altogether, American consumers would need to look overseas for almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisins, kiwifruit, clingstone peaches, pistachios, dried plums, pomegranates, sweet rice, and walnuts.

Given that California produces the lion’s share of other crops grown in the United States, the shopping list grows tremendously with the food we’d need to source from overseas to fill our refrigerators and pantries. Perhaps much of our local salad bar would require importeation from foreign sources if California stopped growing food.

Why would California stop growing food, you ask? Good question.

In my opinion, we haven’t kept up with our water infrastructure needs and what little water we do have for 38 million people is being rationed in favor of fish and wildlife.

While California is blessed with great soil and a Mediterranean climate, we’re cursed by climate.

The ebbs and flows of the world’s climate have, from time to time, been stingy with California when it comes to rain and snow.

Perhaps this would be a great time to have a serious policy discussion under the premise, “What is the purpose of water?”

As elementary as this question sounds, it’s apparently necessary as legislative and court decisions over the past 30 years have determined human beings should no longer be first in line for the fresh water managed to harness and use for a host of good purposes.

Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that national policy suggests human access to plentiful and sustainable supplies of clean, fresh water is our primary goal. Then what?

If our goal is to ensure humans ready access to a sustainable supply of fresh water, then what are we doing to achieve it? Inherent in this discussion is the need for farmers to produce food and fiber with some of that water.

Water for agriculture is not a zero-sum game where it is consumed then never made available again. Every bit of food in our refrigerators and pantry require water to be grown, processed and, in some cases, packaged. Without water, we have no food.

If America’s famine for leadership was ever apparent, it’s now as we continue to live under the premise that humans are not the best first-use for water.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like