Economist at the Center for Economic Research & Forecasting (CERF), at California Lutheran University. His specialty is applied econometric analysis and the economics of land use.
As California weathers its fourth straight year of extreme drought, policy makers and their cheerleaders continue to scapegoat California’s agricultural industry. Writing in the Sacramento Bee, economist Christopher Thornberg, for example, refers to the industry as “feckless” and advocates using eminent domain to seize farmers’ water. In truth, the agricultural industry has made ground-breaking efficiency gains in the past twenty years.
Consider this: In the late 1980s, following the last big drought, total groundwater extraction by farmers within Fox Canyon, a robust agricultural region in Ventura County, declined sharply and then settled in to a five-year average of approximately 80,000 acre feet per year. That level of extraction has now been stable for over 20 years. During that same 20-year period, production of notoriously water-hungry strawberries has increased 145 percent. Production of raspberries has increased an astonishing 425 percent. Ventura County farmers are doing vastly more with the same amount of water. This pattern holds true statewide. The total value of agricultural output in California increased from $16.3 billion in 1998 to $22.3 billion in 2010, without any increase in total agricultural water use. Rather than a story of fecklessness, this is a story of fabulous innovation; one that producers in other industries can look to for inspiration.