Sunday, March 09, 2014

It's Chinatown, Jake

California alfalfa

From Meat Makes a Planet Thirsty, NY Times:

...A single plant is leading California’s water consumption.

Unfortunately, it’s a plant that’s not generally cultivated for humans: alfalfa. Grown on over a million acres in California, alfalfa sucks up more water than any other crop in the state. And it has one primary destination: cattle. Increasingly popular grass-fed beef operations typically rely on alfalfa as a supplement to pasture grass. Alfalfa hay is also an integral feed source for factory-farmed cows, especially those involved in dairy production.

If Californians were eating all the beef they produced, one might write off alfalfa’s water footprint as the cost of nurturing local food systems. But that’s not what’s happening. Californians are sending their alfalfa, and thus their water, to Asia. The reason is simple. It’s more profitable to ship alfalfa hay from California to China than from the Imperial Valley to the Central Valley. Alfalfa growers are now exporting some 100 billion gallons of water a year from this drought-ridden region to the other side of the world in the form of alfalfa. All as more Asians are embracing the American-style, meat-hungry diet...

More on alfalfa in today's Chronicle...

Drought forcing farmers to change

Environmentalists argue that some crops shouldn't be grown at all. They accuse farmers of "exporting water" in the form of crops such as alfalfa and almonds to Japan and China. Alfalfa is one of the state's biggest water users, far exceeding the water requirements of other crops grown in the state....[farmer Shawn]Coburn, however, says his thirsty alfalfa isn't some boutique crop---it's vital to San Joaquin Valley ranchers and dairies that put meat and milk in the refrigerators of millions of Californians. The drought has driven alfalfa prices to record highs, if it is available at all. When Coburn told one farmer he wasn't going to grow any alfalfa this summer, "he literally was beside himself," Coburn said. "How am I going to feed my cows this summer?" the man asked him. Farmers' point: Everything they grow requires water, and shorting them has consequences for everyone...."You like wine?" Coburn asked. "How many gallons of water do you think goes into a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck or a really nice varietal up north? Take your pick: 275 gallons."

Photo, Michael Macor, the Chronicle

And it's Cadillac Desert



At 3:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what's your solution?

At 3:19 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

At the very least, the state should stop allowing farmers to export alfalfa. Let Japan and other countries use their own water to grow fodder for livestock.


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