Tuesday, June 2, 2015

William Shatner: "move water to california"; Cliff Mass "move california ag to washington"

Professor cliff mass writes a blog about local weather and other topics that I read now and then, and wrote a message about how instead of moving northwest water to california, we should move california agriculture to washington state.  Here's my long reply to Mr. Mass:

Posted as a comment on his blog post:  

Professor Mass:  I'm a farmer who writes a blog about farming in western washington.  I'm going to give you an answer to your question, but you're probably not going to like it.  

"why not move the agriculture here?"  

Where most of the rainfall is, in western washington, has been actively hostile to agriculture.  Vast tracts of great agricultural land are now buried under shopping centers, airports and thousands of warehouses and housing tracts in king, pierce and snohomish county.  What little land is left is mostly in the flood plain, and vast tracts of that have been removed from agricultural use by misguided "restoration" projects that have the goal of "restoring" the land to some state, that, honestly, seems to be mostly based on fantasy.  Take the snohomish river delta; diked around the turn of the century it's been purchased and flooded to make tidal estuaries with the theory being that this will improve salmon runs but at a cost estimated to be $100,000 per fish.  That's a very expensive fish.  (partnership for puget sound estimates that $533,000,000 has been spent on restoration projects for 22 runs.  One run increased, one decreased, and the rest are unchanged.  For a half-billion dollars spent)

Even if you do find a tract of land that is unused and unpaved, the department of ecology has been enforcing a rule that says that if the land is unused for 5 years and any wetland indicators have emerged during that time that the land is converted to wetland and can no longer be farmed.  

We have chosen to build our houses on farmland for the past 50 years; and arable land is precious and irreplaceable at any reasonable cost.  Building your house on a level pasture makes for a pretty house.  The return on agricultural land is so low that any use other than agriculture is preferred by the local politicians (read:  bigger tax base) and you can see evidence in the conversion of flood-plain farmland in arlington into 'commercial' land recently, despite the opposition of local farmers and diking districts.   

So imagine that you have found a patch of land to farm, and you begin to farm.  While there is quite a bit of local noise about local food, when you actually have to get down to the business of producing that food - cultivating and planting and weeding and fertilizing and harvesting - subdivisions, which border many farms in king and snohomish county - put up opposition to standard, accepted farming practices.  Such as working long hours to fit into narrow weather windows, application of natural fertilizers (manure and manure tea) and the traffic and commotion associated with those activities. 

You probably haven't had the experience of driving agricultural equipment down a rural highway, but I can assure you that not everyone is waving with all their fingers.  :)

Dairy farms are a great fit for our long growing season for grass and our abundant water and good soil, but they have been regulated out of business; required manure lagoons and handling equipment, acreage requirements per cow and land prices that are out of sight for most farmers make this untenable.  

The department of ecology requires anyone trapping rainfall to get a permit, and this even applies to rain barrels.  A farmer who created a resevoir to water crops or livestock would be sued and fined for doing so, even if the water was collected during the part of the year when we have excess.  Drawing water from streams, lakes or other surface water source is forbidden for crops, and limited to 5,000 gallons for livestock.    

I love salmon, and I love the environment, but I don't love the state of washingtons rules related to agriculture, and I see those rules as being the primary impediment to having more food produced closer to our population centers.  These rules are a primary source of friction between eastern and western washington politicians.  

It's not that milk and meat and vegetables aren't being produced and consumed.  it's that we are exporting our mess to other states (like california) and are unwillling to have the production be here.  In essense california is in such deep trouble because we are managing it as our farm, and western washington as our park.  

Everyone eats.  If you don't like how a particular food is produced enough that you don't want it in your state, why should you export that to some other state?  

You can see my operation on my blog at blog.bigpig.net, and if you want to see some of the regulatory crap I've had to put  up with, I suggest the following links to specific pages:  

Snohomish county health department says that feeding fruits and vegetables to pigs is illegal:  

Snohomish county employee writes complaints, and then "enforces" her own complaints, ignoring the same issues on properties on all sides of the farm:

The department of ecology cites me and threatens a $10,000 fine for spreading wood chips on my property, where wood chips form most of the "wetland restoration" work that the DOE does itself:  

Ecology staffers show up at my front door and want to inspect my property

three different goverment agencies want to inspect my property without my permission

How many hours a week should I be required to spend to fend off people who are paid by the state?  How many attorney hours should I have to purchase?  As a farmer, it would be simpler to move to a state where agriculture is recognized and supported by the government.  

Many citizens like the idea of local food, and I sell a lot to those folks, and appreciate their business.  I don't think that they, or you, professor Mass, know what goes into those local strawberries, or milk, or meat in addition to the hard work of farming itself.  

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