“If it wasn’t for having crop insurance right now, I would have lost everything three generations of Messonniers have created. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be here. It’s that simple.” ... “This was the first year ever we didn’t do any rice,” (Tom Roduner) said. “Sometimes we have a little bit. It’s so bleak this year, between the water allocation and how dry things were, it just wasn’t feasible to do any.”
-- Calix, Merced Sun-Star, Oct. 28, 2015
One question unasked in this version of the Great Valley Whine is: Was that really crop insurance? Or was it income insurance from the 2014 Farm Bill that paid for the estimated income lost on fallowed land? And if it was income insurance paid by the Farm Bill, how many seasons will that income be calculated, considering not just the current drought but what systematic, wholesale overdraft of groundwater by farmers and low reservoirs has done to agricultural water supplies?
Another question: how did those previous three generations of Meissonniers survive to reproduce themselves without such crop insurance? We're not sure, but at least in recent years, the Meissoniers have been farming the government a little bit. (1)
Roduner Farms farmed the government for a little bit more. (2)
It needs to be added that this kind of agriculture is not just the victim of global warming; it is a cause of global warming: from the enormous quantities of petroleum produced energy needed to make the artificial fertilizers necessary to farm land, so sterilized by herbicides that it is little more than a dead medium for plants to stand in, the fuels used to farm, harvest and ship these commodities so much of which are exported, the warming effect of naked fields, and the dust. It is an agricultural economy based, like their neighbors in the oil business, on heavy investment in the political denial of global warming. In the criminal case of the current Farm Bill, it is looting the public trough to subsidize the Farm Bureau extravaganza, the Last Tango of the Dinosaurs. Look for it at your local county fairgrounds.
Study: Fallow land in Central Valley grows dramatically amid drought
New study uses satellite imagery to track fallow land
Valley land fallowed during winter season up 140 percent in 2015
Central Valley farmers increasingly are leaving land fallow since the state’s historic drought began four years ago, according to a study led by NASA that used satellite imagery of the region.
The new study by NASA and other agencies said more than 1.9 million acres of land in the Valley were fallow during the summer crop season that ended Sept. 30. That compared to 1.4 million acres fallowed during the summer of 2011. For the winter season, which runs Jan. 1 to May 31, nearly 1.8 million acres were left unsown this year, an increase of 140 percent over winter 2011. The number of acres left fallow year-round also more than doubled, from 406,000 to more than 1 million.
Merced County was among the top six counties in the Valley to fallow the most land. Fresno County led the list.
The study, released Oct. 14, attributes the increase in fallowed land to the lack of irrigation water. “When drought causes land to be taken out of production, farm income and agricultural input sales decrease, while unemployment increases among workers employed by farms and related businesses,” the study says.
NASA and the United States Geological Survey used satellite images and evaluation of ground-level crops to conduct the research.
In Merced County, about a quarter of the agriculture acreage was fallow in summer 2015: 104,151 acres fallowed compared to 358,516 planted. In the summer of 2011, just over 60,000 acres were left fallow.
The study notes that annual crops, such as cotton, rice and alfalfa, are associated with increases of fallowing land.
Frenchy Meissonnier, whose family has farmed rice in Merced County for nearly 100 years, fallowed 700 acres for a second year. His last normal year was in 2012.
“This can’t be long term,” he said. “I’ve got to farm to survive.”
In the meantime, Meissonnier has depended on his crop insurance.
“If it wasn’t for having crop insurance right now, I would have lost everything three generations of Messonniers have created. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be here. It’s that simple.”
With the lack of rain and storage water, many Valley farmers and agencies have resorted to pumping groundwater. But that’s an irrigation method rice farmers can’t count on.
Tom Roduner typically farms rice, but last year’s dry conditions didn’t produce the crop he hoped for. He decided not to farm any rice this year.
Surface water works much better for farming rice, he said, because rice depends on an initial flood of water before switching to a lower flow.
“With well water, you’re limited to whatever the well pumps out,” Roduner said. “It takes such a long time and takes more water because you don’t have that big initial volume.”
Merced Irrigation District allocated about 10,000 acre-feet of water from Lake McClure in late June and simultaneously pumped about 14,000 acre-feet of ground water. But because of the location of Roduner’s rice crop, he didn’t have access to that water.
“This was the first year ever we didn’t do any rice,” he said. “Sometimes we have a little bit. It’s so bleak this year, between the water allocation and how dry things were, it just wasn’t feasible to do any.”
(1) Dave Meissonier, owner of Frenchy's Trucking, also received $165,354 in farm subsidies between 1995-2014. Victor Meissonier, also a Merced farmer, during the same period received $171,782 in farm subsidies. -- Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database, http://farm.ewg.org/top_recips.php?fips=06047&progcode=total_de
(2) Roduner Farms collected $544,446 in farm subsidies over the same period, according to the same source.