Writers for The Packer travel often to cover stories, sometimes out of state, as was the case for me early this month.

California logic forgets agriculture's revenue

Don Schrack
Staff Writer

I was in Las Vegas at Potato Expo 2011. It was a great show, by the way.

As usual, a few folks were curious about California logic.

Seems the whys and wherefores are not as obvious in the other 49. I’ll try to clarify.

First, California is dead broke. By this time next year — give or take a couple of months — the pile of debt will be about $28 billion deep.

That’s nothing new — we’ve been frolicking in red ink for several years.

There’s the matter of our proposed high speed rail that would run from San Francisco to Los Angeles with Sacramento and San Diego thrown in at some later date.

Now those of you in the other 49 probably assume construction would start at one end or the other. Oh, you’re so wrong — this is California!

The High Speed Rail Authority, which has already spent millions, has mandated that the first stage of construction run from near Madera to Corcoran — about 60 miles — and each end is about 150 miles from one of those big cities.

The California logic, they say, that is building the railway will mean jobs for lots of folks. We ignore that if the railway is ever finished, they’ll be out of work again.

There is one agricultural fly in the railway ointment. That first leg and the bulk of the proposed route runs through the San Joaquin Valley, home to some of the best farmland in the West and a big player in the state’s nearly $40 billion annual agricultural revenue.

Ag also happens to be one of the few industries in the state with a positive balance of trade.

Of course growers have had a say in deciding the proposed route, right?

No, according to Manual Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League.

“I have been able to deal with immigration officials, the United Farm Workers union and Congress,” he told the Fresno Bee.

“But these guys (the rail authority) don’t want to talk with us. Their attitude is, ‘We are going to put this through and we don’t really care about these farmers.’”

After all, the rail authority claims it needs no more than 1,500 acres of farmland.

Don’t bet on that, though. California estimates have a track record of being a fair piece from reality.

When high-speed rail was first proposed in 1996, the price tag was put at $18 billion. Today, officials say it will be more like $45 billion. Independent experts put the figure at closer to $80 billion — at a minimum.

For growers, there are other issues: cutting in half farms — some of which have been in families for generations; tractor drivers forced to drive several miles to get from one side of the rails to the other; disrupting canals and perhaps the loss of more than a few growers’ homes.

With the support of California lawmakers, we ignore all problems — and hope to die before the bills come due.

E-mail dschrack@thepacker.com

Do you think California growers have been left out of the high speed train discussion? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.