Monday, April 21, 2014

Ag news from California to China

Agriculture has been in the news a lot of late, and a few stories jumped out as worthy of note on Legal Ruralism.  First, out of California, came this story about labor shortages (and therefore implicating immigration reform) and just yesterday this one in relation to the drought.  Both issues have the state's farmers in a pinch.  The labor shortage is old news, which I have written about here and here.  The drought story notes the competition for water between California's mostly urban populace and the agricultural enterprises that supply between one-third and one-half of the nation's fruits and vegetables has already pushed up food prices.
[W]hile this is not the state’s worst drought on record (that was in the 1920s), there are greater demands today on what water there is. A booming population and a sharp increase in lucrative crops like berries and nuts that require more water strain the system. In addition, environmental laws put into effect after the last major drought, in the 1970s, to protect fish and wildlife habitats have reduced the amount of water going to farmers. 
All told, more than three million acres of the nine million acres of irrigated farmland in the state will get no surface water this year other than rain, which has been scarce.
The drought is expected to cause farmers to leave up to 7 percent of the state's cropland fallow.  The USDA forecasts a 20% decline in the state's rice crop and a decline of as much as 35% in the state's cotton crop compared to last year.

Across the Pacific, the ag news is also bad, there because of soil quality.  NPR reports here.  The Chinese government recently released a report indicating that some 19% of its farmland is contaminated, mostly with heavy metals such as cadmium, nickel and arsenic. The official Xinhua news agency blames "irrigation by polluted water, the improper use of fertilizers and pesticides and the development of livestock breeding."  The report states bluntly:
The overall condition of the Chinese soil allows no optimism.
According to the Associated Press, health advocates have already "identified several 'cancer villages' in China near factories suspected of polluting the environment."  The Associated Press also asserts that the Chinese report was "previously deemed so sensitive [that] it was classified as a state secret." China's assessment spans the period between April 2005 and December 2013.  According to The Guardian, "most of the contaminated farm land is on the highly developed and industrialized east coast, but heavy metal pollution was especially bad in the country's southwest."   A Chinese agriculture official has suggested that millions of hectares of farmland could be withdrawn from production.

See the New York Times coverage of the Chinese report here.

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