Washington Evening Journal
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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 31, 2014

Cattlemen discuss past and future of beef industry

By David Hotle | Mar 28, 2013
Bill Couser, a cattle producer from Nevada, speaks to about 50 people who attended the Washington County Cattlemen’s Association banquet.

Bill Couser, keynote speaker for the Washington County Cattlemen’s Association banquet, said that he was concerned when he attached his laptop computer to a projector and a photo of a cow in Cyclone apparel came on the screen.
Couser, the co-owner of Couser Cattle Company in Nevada, told the assembled cattlemen about his 5,000-acre spread and many of the changes that have occurred to the ranch in his lifetime “while keeping the same footprint.” Couser is the fourth generation of his family to farm the land. He is also a member of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association and has presented information on agriculture production to the attorney generals’ national convention. Cattlemen President Kurt Dallmeyer said that Couser had done many unique projects involving cattle production, which encouraged Dallmeyer to ask him to speak.
“I’ve never shared my picture this close to Iowa City,” Couser said, motioning to the bovine dressed in Iowa State garb. “A year ago Iowa State had a deal where you dressed your pet. We kept seeing dogs and cats. We borrowed some clothes to dress it and I’ll be darned if it didn’t win.”
About 50 people attended what was the first cattlemen’s banquet to be held during the winter. The banquet was held March 23 at the Washington Conservation Center in Marr Park.
For about 45 minutes, Couser showed videos of his spread, and spoke of several conservation projects he is spearheading at his company.
Couser said that he has realized in many areas around the country, beef producers have “skipped a generation.”
“All of a sudden we have a generation who doesn’t understand what we do for a living or where our food comes from,” he said. “It is very frustrating because we are just farmers. If you have one or 10,000, you are still a producer.”
Other special guests included Scott Heater, vice chair of the Iowa Beef Industry Council.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Apr 05, 2013 14:38

Shutting down coal. With 497 billion tons of recoverable coal in the U.S.—enough to provide electricity for 500 years at current consumption rates—coal has the potential to be an important resource long into the future. Regrettably, the Obama Administration has taken actions that significantly reduce coal’s share of America’s energy portfolio now and in the future. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory train wreck will prematurely shut down approximately 20 percent of America’s coal-fired electricity generation—enough to power 50 million homes. The EIA projects that 8.5 percent of the coal-fired generation capacity will come offline in the next four years.



Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Mar 31, 2013 00:59

Environmental Regulations Destroying the San Joaquin Valley and Jobs

 

Playing cards and a small wad of dollar bills sit on a pool table at Los Kiki, a dusty pool hall at the end of the main drag in Mendota, Calif. A breeze blows through a broken window, past six men hunched over the table, beer bottles in their hands. It is middle of a Wednesday afternoon. A year ago, they would have been out planting and pruning in the vast fields of grapes, tomatoes, onions, and nut trees that fan out from the city limits. But this year, many of those fields are lying fallow, and the men at Los Kiki are out of work.

"Before, it was good. There were jobs eight months, 10 months out of the year. Now, nothing," says Luis Cortez, 52. Others nod in agreement. Cortez says he has worked just three days all year.

Mendota touts itself as the cantaloupe capital of the world, but its de facto motto is far less optimistic. "No water, no work" is the refrain repeated everywhere here in the western reaches of the San Joaquin Valley. The unemployment rate in this 10,000-person town was an unfathomable 38 percent in July (including documented and undocumented workers). Nearly all those who have lost their jobs are farm workers, who often straddle the poverty line even in boom times. The result is a cruel irony: in the region that produces more food than anywhere else in the country, food lines have become regular fixtures, drawing hundreds, sometimes thousands.

After three years of drought, California's legendary water wars are flaring once again, and towns like Mendota, San Joaquin, and Firebaugh are getting a first glimpse of what their future might look like. Farmers blame the area's blight on a "man-made drought" brought on by increasingly strict environmental regulations, but that is only the beginning of the story. There's also the crushing confluence of political negligence, drought, and a century's worth of unbridled growth. Now, as residents wonder if normalcy will ever return, planners are forced to consider a far uglier question: should it? Is a new "normal" required?

That towns like Mendota even exist reflects the extraordinary ambition that built the American West. A century ago, much of the San Joaquin Valley was an undeveloped dust bowl, its few small farming communities clustered around natural water sources. Today, it is a green expanse of agricultural empires. Most of the water that has irrigated these seemingly endless fields comes from northern California, diverted by an epic system of dams and canals born from New Deal funds. It was one of the most ambitious water systems ever built, and the San Joaquin Valley became, in the words of historian Kevin Starr, "the most productive unnatural environment on Earth."

The valley is home to a $20 billion crop industry; the San Joaquin region alone produces more in farm sales than any other individual state in the country. Mark Borba, 59, has a big stake in that business, just as his grandparents did in the valley's development. Borba Farms started off with about 20 milk cows and 30 acres of land in 1910, at a time when farmers who had tapped an underground aquifer were kicking off a race to cultivate. The farm now covers 10,000 acres, and Mark Borba is only one of 600 growers in the Westlands Water District, a water-contracting group of farmers and landowners on the far west side of the valley where Mendota and other towns sit. By the time Borba took over his family's operation in the 1970s, the valley was already supplying 25 percent of the country's food.

Making that explosive growth possible is access to water delivered through an increasingly byzantine system centered on the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, a thousand-square-mile web of channels, islands, and levees where the two rivers meet before flowing into the San Francisco Bay. From there, giant dams and pumps suck the water southward through veinlike aqueducts to 25 million people and more than 5 million acres of farmland. But not all water consumers are created equally. In fact, access to the water is essentially based on a squatters' rights notion: "First in rights, first in time." In other words, whoever signed up for a water contract first got the best guarantees. Latecomers got junior rights, meaning they'd be the first to get cut in a dry. Westlands, which has a contract for water delivery with the federal government, is the most junior of the bunch.

It was complicated and costly, but for a long time, the system worked. Over the last three decades, however, the valley's explosive growth has caused rivers to run dry, dead fish to accumulate near the water pumps, and chronic water shortages. The levees near the bay are old, prompting worries that a failure, perhaps following an earthquake, could cause salt water from the bay to rush into the delta, crippling the water supply for the entire state. And the delta smelt, an endangered species of fish no bigger than an index finger, began disappearing as the massive pumps sucked up fish along with the water it was sending south. Lawsuits over the fish filed by environmental groups and water contractors multiplied, and court-imposed restrictions and regulations began siphoning off more and more of the 6 million acre-feet of water exported through the river basin each year.



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