California Ag Biz Loses Equivalent to Ebay Being Wiped Out, and it Could Get Worse

Aubrey Bettencourt
Executive Director, California Water Alliance

What if I told you California’s economy lost $9.6 billion in revenue last year? What if I told you the governor and the legislature didn’t care and didn’t think you would mind?

That’s exactly what happened.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) announced in October, “In 2015 California’s farms and ranches received approximately $47 billion for their output. This represents a decrease of nearly 17 percent compared to 2014.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service said prior-year comparable receipts were $56.6 billion. That’s a revenue loss of $9.6 billion in a single year.

A $9.6 billion loss in revenue is equivalent to erasing the total sales of eBay ($9.4 billion) or eliminating MasterCard ($9.7 billion), both among California’s most productive corporations.

Governor Jerry Brown and Sacramento legislators ignored policy experts and family farmers and ranchers, signing bill after bill for years on end. The past sessions saw legislation that added sharp increases to labor costs, restricted use of the state’s water, curtailed property rights dating to our state’s founding, limited farmers’ uses of nutrient fertilizers and crop safety products, forced more costly production methods and expanded their compliance and bookkeeping costs.

It’s estimated that the average California farmer now is required to pay and be compliant with nearly 80 local, state, and federal regulatory agencies in order to grow food, fiber, and fuel for our nation’s citizens and the world.

After three years of Governor Brown’s emergency orders, his appointed state regulators and their federal counterparts’ edicts killed thousands of family farms and small businesses and eradicated thousands of entry-level and middle-class jobs. These destructive bills were rubber stamped by the state legislature, and the outcome’s statistics speak for themselves.

  • CDFA reported that California lost 5,300 family farms and ranches between 2010 and 2014. The 2014 Crop Report stated that California had fewer operations in 2014 than at any time since 2007.
  • Cultivated and grazed agricultural acreage dropped 700,000 acres since 2007.
  • U.C. Davis estimates that 78,800 acres were idled in 2016 due to the California drought.
  • A UC Davis’ study author, Daniel A. Sumner, confirms an additional 461,000 acres were left unplanted due to  federal and state regulatory diversions of water from farms or for other man made reasons unrelated to low natural precipitation or short water supplies. “The rest really are due to long term regulations (or other factors in some cases),” said Sumner.

And the governor, legislature and regulators are coming back for more.

Water exports to serve Californians in the state’s major southern cities, rural communities and farmlands are at their lowest ebb since the 1970’s drought, but water diversions for government environmental projects and programs are at record highs.

Despite last winter’s normal rainfall in the headwater regions of the state, San Luis Reservoir and other major water supplies were drained to tiny fractions of their capacity this summer, leaving the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, local water agencies and urban water districts scrambling for enough water to serve their customers as the state enters a sixth year of drought. Many communities drank foul-tasting and smelling water.

The moral of the story is this: whether you care about farmers or not isn’t the point. Your government and elected representatives are intentionally losing productive revenue and diminishing California’s economy. In just one sector — Agriculture — $9.6 billion is not available for creating jobs, supporting schools, helping the poor with health care and social programs or investing in local communities. And our leaders and government say they intend to pass more laws and implement more regulations to lose our state even more money and curtail even more vital services.

With that much money lost to the state coffers, one can only imagine where government will look next in its quest to make up the difference.

Perhaps you won’t notice that a key element of our state the size of eBay or MasterCard is gone. But wake up California, before the equivalent of a Google or Facebook are gone, too ($17.34 billion).

Aubrey Bettencourt is the Executive Director of the California Water Alliance, a statewide public policy group. Aubrey advocates for the water needs of California families, cities, businesses, farmers and the environment. She is a writer, radio host, and political strategist. Follow on Twitter @AubBettencourt

 

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