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Unless you’ve been living in a cave as of late, you’ve probably heard about California’s water woes and Governor Jerry Brown’s executive order to cut water consumption by 25 percent, statewide. You also have probably heard he exempted farms, a move that has some Californians less than thrilled.

The effects of the historic, four-year drought are far-reaching, tough to swallow and affect more than you realize. The drought is even to blame for the newest social media trend sweeping California: #DroughtShaming.

california-drought-before-after

Which leads to the one prevailing question I have: Is it fair to exempt farming, an industry which many media outlets quote as using 80 percent of all the water consumed in the state?

For those of us in the Midwest, or anywhere other than California for that matter, it’s easy to think, “That sucks for them, but what does that have to do with me? No drought here!” Well, that’s where the ‘far-reaching’ and ‘unexpected’ part of this comes into play.

Midwestern states are known for their plentiful production of corn and soybeans — food products that don’t always directly make it to your table. Instead, they’re used for seed, biofuels, or feed for livestock. You get that food product back eventually, but not in it’s raw form, straight from the field.

But where does the rest of the food we eat come from? As in, all the fruits and veggies you love to eat? You guessed it, the sunshine state. It makes the reasoning behind Gov. Brown’s decision to exempt farming easier to understand.

In fact, as this NPR article points out, that 80 percent statistic may not always reflect reality.

“Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley have been the only ones to have their water actually completely cut off,” said Dave Puglia, senior vice president with the Western Growers Association.

Puglia likens the “zero percent allocations of water” that most of his growers will get to the ultimate kind of forced water conservation.

“I don’t know how you can ask farmers to conserve more than zero,” he says.

Still, opponents say the farm exemption is a tough pill to swallow, considering California agriculture accounts for only a small part of California’s $2 trillion economy — roughly 2 percent of the gross state product.

On the other hand, that 2 percent is still pretty big from a global perspective: California, if set apart from the U.S., would be one of the world’s ten biggest economies. Indeed, the industry is quick to point out that California now produces the bulk of the country’s fresh food supply, including lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes and, yes, nuts.

Is there a fair way to divide up such a valuable resource among so many people — 38.8 million people to be exact? Right now, California’s water rights basically boil down to if you’re old, you’re gold. In other words, the earlier your land was irrigated, the more senior your water rights and the bigger bucket of the state’s remaining water you’ll receive. If your neighbor didn’t irrigate his land until recently, he might get nothing.

California-drought

And what about the crops that California is growing? Some opponents of agricultural water use are proposing moving the state’s agricultural sector elsewhere in the U.S., saying water-intensive crops shouldn’t be grown in California in the first place. Unfortunately, that mentality disregards a couple pretty important points:

  • Land availability. Last time I checked, land in the Midwest — well, everywhere, really — is already in use. We’re no longer in the frontier age where new land is being discovered. It’s been laid claim to and locked into a purpose. There is the possibility of some land already in use being converted to a new use, like growing fruits and nuts and vegetables, but what about the people already making a living off the land as it is? Or the people in California making a living off of their land?
  • Climate. California is able to raise such a diverse supply of crops because of its Mediterranean-like climate. And, unfortunately, no other state in the union has a climate quite like it, making it the perfect place to grow some of the crops — like almonds — that you don’t see anywhere else.

I suppose all of this boils down to one thing, for me anyway: I get it. I understand why Gov. Brown decided to exclude farmers from the mandated water cuts. But I also think farmers shouldn’t consider themselves “off the hook.”

Drought or no drought, water isn’t an infinite resource. It takes time to replenish. And with a growing population, time isn’t something that will be easy to come by. Farmers are going to have to do their part to help conserve water, too. Some already have, which is a step in the right direction. And I have no doubt that farmers will continue to try to modify their water use. They’re a clever breed, after all. Always adapting to new technology and ways of doing things.

Time for another edition of the Weekly Round Up. And, just so you know, a lot of stuff happened this week. Prepare yourself.

  • Did you know June is Dairy Month? I love Dairy Month because I grew up with dairy cattle. Everyone else loves Dairy Month because, well, ice cream and hot weather were made for each other. In celebration of Dairy Month, here are all the awesome articles and memes you can check out:
    • Need some new recipes for satisfy your June dairy cravings? Check out this cookbook from http://www.DairyMakesSense.com.
    • This. Because, obviously. Keep Calm
    • Have you ever wondered how real milk stacks up against other popular milks like soy, almond or coconut milk? This handy chart can help.
    • And also this. Consequently, if you love all things cows, visit http://www.steelcow.com. Beautiful artwork that features all things bovine (and a few pigs and chickens, too)!Dairy Month
    • And this. Midwest Dairy
    • And, one more. Because you’re a glutton for punishment. Milk Sales
  • You might have seen this making the rounds this week, but if not, check it out. Flooding in Texas has affected cities and rural communities alike and, in the case of this rancher, the community came together to help him get his stranded cattle to safety — driving them nearly 70 miles! The pictures alone are worth the read.
  • This, which I found last week. Apparently, in June 1938, several members of Congress competed in a milking contest on the Capitol grounds. From the House Agriculture Committee’s Facebook page: “Texas Congressman Marvin Jones, who was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, served as the referee. According to new reports, he declared the contest a draw because after 10 minutes of milking, none of the contestants had more than a pint of milk to show for their efforts.” Wonder how the same contest with today’s Congressional delegation would go? We know they’re good at pulling legs. Milking Contest
  • This editorial, from TruthAboutTrade.org. Written by a Vermont farm mom, this article talks about the price of GMO labeling to the family farm. It’s an excellent read, straight from the horse’s mouth.
  • And finally, this article from BloodHorse.com. As someone who has a lot of experience in the horse industry, this was particularly interesting. The article focuses not on Triple Crown hopeful, American Pharoah, but instead, his pony horse, Smokey. What’s so interesting, for me, is the fact that Smokey has one heck of a pedigree and a whole lot of training to end up ponying horses on the racetrack. I’m just guessing her, but I would bet, with Smokey’s training and breeding, he was a six-figure horse when trainer Bob Baffert bought him to pony horses on the track. And, if all of that was just a foreign language to you, you should still check out the article, because there are pretty pictures of horses. And, it talks about American Pharoah, who just might be the first horse to claim the triple crown since Affirmed did it in 1978.

 

Insanity

What’s the definition of insanity again? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time? It think that’s what Einstein said.

If that’s the case, then last week, I felt a little insane. Not so much because I expected different results each time, but more because I spent what seems like the majority of my time issuing statements from the Illinois Farm Bureau on a variety of legislative and regulatory topics which affect the farmers do their jobs.

It was kind of like the perfect storm.

In the last week and a half, the U.S. Senate voted to approve the Trade Promotion Authority (yay!), the Illinois state legislature was busy with budget arguments and passing a few final bills (good and bad and messy), and the EPA announced its final ruling on Waters of the U.S. and issued the 2014, 2015 and 2015 Renewable Fuels Standard mandate (seriously, EPA?) — all of which meant statements from Illinois Farm Bureau were soon to follow.

All of the statements Illinois Farm Bureau issued were important to farmers across the state for one reason or another, but of particular importance was the statement Illinois Farm Bureau issued on EPA’s final Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. From the get-go, farmers have put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard or even hand to phone to let EPA and Congress know the then-proposed rule was, well, hogwash.

The proposed regulation was far-reaching, allowing the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to gobble up privately owned land under regulatory authority and change the way it can and can’t be used. And it proposed regulating, basically, EVERY. DROP. OF. WATER. Which means that water in a ditch, even if that ditch was dry 95 percent of the time, could fall under EPA’s regulatory reach. Tributaries, navigable water, adjacent waters, floodplains — pretty much everything. That feeling of insanity is creeping back in…

This grass waterway could fall under the EPA's regulatory authority under the EPA's 'clarified' WOTUS rule.

This grass waterway could fall under the EPA’s regulatory authority under the EPA’s ‘clarified’ WOTUS rule.

That ‘pretty much everything’ is why business owners, chambers of commerce, farm organizations, and farmers themselves, reached out in droves to let EPA know the rule wouldn’t fly. Instead, after extending the initial comment period twice, the EPA ignored all of their concerns and issued their final rule last week.

And in their final, more than 300-page rule, they changed virtually nothing, hanging business and agriculture out to dry, which really didn’t gain them too many friends.

So what does that mean for the farmers and business owners who were opposed to the proposed rule in the first place? Well, that’s still up in the air. The rule will take effect within 60 days of being published in the Federal Register, so time is short. There’s legislation working its way through the House and Senate to stop the ruling, but given the time it takes to get bills through Congress these days, it may be too late. That, and it can, and probably would be, vetoed by the President.

There’s also talk of some states taking the EPA to court over the ruling because of EPA’s unorthodox, and probably illegal, processes used to gain public support for the rule change. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.

Organizations and municipalities continue to review the final rule and discuss options for moving forward. Unfortunately because of the rule’s complexity, that will take time, too.

Either way, it looks like we have a long, drawn out mess on our hands.

It’s time for another edition of the Weekly Round Up and, let me tell you, there was no shortage of stuff to talk about this week. WOTUS, COOL, TPA and EPA’s proposed RVOs for RFS all happened, or are in the process of happening, this week. And if you don’t know what all of those acronyms mean, don’t worry. We’re going to cover a couple of them this weekend.

But first, it’s quick hit time:

  • This, from CBS News, which gives an interesting overview of how you, now matter where you are, will feel the pinch due to California’s unprecedented drought. It’s definitely interesting.
  • This, because, of course. I do love The Beatles.The Beatles
  • This, from Three Little Birds and One Messy Nest, which I thought was really interesting. This self-proclaimed ‘food activist’ decided it was high time to get the rest of the story on GMOs. So she went to Monsanto and asked the hard questions. She was traveling as part of a group of moms who toured the St. Louis facility and asked every question under the sun about GMOs and biotech. Kudos to her for having an open mind and being willing to listen, rather than just talk.
  • And this, from the Peterson Farm Brothers. They’ve released parody after parody and they’re always great and always about agriculture. And this one features an ’80s rock anthem. What’s not to love?
  • This article, found via Holly Spangler, which is just…well, it’s really something. It’s my sincere hope that everyone who doesn’t have livestock can at least see through PETA and their ridiculous antics.

It’s time for another edition of the Weekly Round Up! This week, we’re talking graduates, more GMOs, Monsanto and cows.

  • My friend, Holly Spangler, over at Prairie Farmer this week reposted this blog she wrote last year, giving the graduates out there some advice as they jump, head first, into their futures. It’s a pretty great read, graduate or not.
  • This, because no truer words were ever spoken. Proof, again, that 4-H teaches more than just ‘farm stuff.’Earned Rest
  • The fall out from Chipotle’s announcement just keeps on comin’. This opinion piece, from USA Today, was a pretty interesting take on Chipotle’s announcement. I’ve posted I don’t know how many links to stories and opinions on Chipotle’s recent anti-GMO announcement, but this one is a little different. Not only does it analyze the company itself, but some interesting aspects of society in general.
  • Katie Pratt is at it again, this time taking on the March Against Monsanto protestors. Katie talks tools in the farmer’s tool belt and how they related back to Monsanto and even the March Against Monsanto protestors. As always, great info that’s easy to read and easy to share.
  • This, because I love a good, corny joke. Decalfinated
  • This piece, from AFBF President Bob Stallman, which talks about responsible corporate policy and how bowing to the loudest voice doesn’t always equate to the smartest corporate policy. Don’t own a corporation? Don’t worry. These are principles you can apply to your life no matter what. Read: sticking to your guns.
  • And finally, my favorite share this week. A post that my friend, Mary, at Mackinson Dairy, posted on her blog. It’s a guest post from a friend of hers named Heather. In the piece, Heather talks about the healing power of her cows, especially during a particularly difficult time in her life. It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful piece and so worth the read. But make sure you have the tissues handy.

This week’s Weekly Round Up is dedicated to GMOs —well, maybe more appropriately, food wars — kind of by accident. I don’t know, but a lot of articles and information I stumbled across this week dealt with GMOs and the science behind them — and marketing campaigns having to do with GMOs, and conventionally-produced food, and red meat and geesh. There was a lot of stuff this week.

So buckle up. Here’s the unusually long May 15 edition of the Weekly Round Up.

  • This one comes from a favorite site of mine, Ask The Farmers. This post deals with the safety of conventionally-produced food versus organic food. It’s well-balanced and contains some great information.
  • This. I suppose it’s a departure from the “food wars” theme, but whatever. It’s a Jersey cow, so it had to make an appearance this week. Jersey
  • This piece, from the Washington Post. It finally put into words some of the thoughts I’ve had the last couple of weeks after Chipotle’s “We’re over GMOs” announcement. Even if you’re a believer in Chipotle’s decision to cast GMO foods aside, this article is an excellent read, asking some important questions about today’s society in general. It’s definitely worth your time.

“But Chipotle, Whole Foods and those who follow their examples are doing real social harm. They are polluting public discourse on scientific matters. They are legitimizing an approach to science that elevates Internet medical diagnosis, social media technological consensus and discredited studies in obscure journals. They are contributing to a political atmosphere in which people pick their scientific views to fit their ideologies, predispositions and obsessions. And they are undermining public trust in legitimate scientific authority, which undermines the possibility of rational public policy on a range of issues.

“Whatever the intention of those involved, embracing pseudoscience as the centerpiece of an advertising and branding effort is an act of corporate irresponsibility.”

  • This one, which comes from the Illinois Farm Families blog. I love it when someone who has never visited or experienced a farm — and has some preconceived notions — finally gets their boots dirty and sees that, maybe, farmers aren’t that bad after all. Check it out.
  • This. Because it seems appropriate, given this week’s round up. GMO food
  • This piece, from NPR, which talks about the origin of GMO foods. Did you know it wasn’t just 20 years ago, but rather, thousands of years ago? And the article is about sweet potatoes, and who doesn’t like sweet potatoes?
  • This blog post, from Feedyard Foodie. In it, she tackles a commonly asked question — or comment — that she receives on her blog. Like the post from Ask The Farmer, this post deals with conventionally-raised beef versus grass-fed beef, but Anne does a great job of getting down to the guts of the issue, and providing concrete examples of why her family farms the way they do. Be sure to check it out.
  • One final ‘GMO’ post from Minnesota Farm Living. A quick list of 10 Things You May Not Know About GMOs.
  • And today’s final entry, because it’s hilarious, comes from The New Yorker. Scientists: Earth Endangered by New Strain of Fact-Resistant Humans. You know you want to read it…

Today is May 8. Tomorrow is May 9.

Sorry, I’m having trouble grasping that because it means a year ago tomorrow, my husband and I were in the hospital welcoming our first child. How has it been a year already? It seems like time has really flown by. Especially considering I came up with the brilliant idea of making H’s first birthday gift – a play kitchen out of an old entertainment center – and I’m now SERIOUSLY running out of time to get it finished. Oh well. Who needs sleep anyway?

To keep my mind off the approaching D-Day – I mean, Happy Birthday, H! – let’s do another Weekly Round Up:

  • This article, which talks about the benefits of equine interaction for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a pretty cool read and helps validate what those of us with horses already know: they’re good for the spirit.
  • This. Because, really, it’s just so true. Backbone
  • This article from The Washington Post. It’s a few weeks old, but still worth posting. Many consumers buy animal products produced the way they think the animals prefer, but in many cases, it’s just not the case, as this article shows.
  • This. In my case, it was usually horses out (and sometimes cows if I was hanging out at Grandma and Grandpa’s house) but, yeah, that’s pretty much our version of the neighborhood watch. Heifers are Out
  • And one more, just because I think it’s funny. I think I might need one of these in the trees at my house. Squirrel Feeder
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