Friday, September 15, 2017

Farm to Table

Take a tour of Central Valley food production.

Produced by Elise Oliver

Friday, September 1, 2017

Fair Trade vs. Free Trade by Elise Oliver

Recently fair trade has gained popularity as evident by the increase in “fair trade certified” labels that are popping up on many products at the grocery store. This label has sparked debate regarding the efficiencies of two different systems of trade—“free trade” and “fair trade.” Many people, myself included, can recite some talking points in support or against the two systems, but when it comes down to it we don’t have enough information about either system to really make an educated statement. It seems to have become an issue that is linked with partisanship. In other words, a precedent has been established that conservatives support free trade while liberals support fair trade; as a result, partisanship has taken the place of facts in determining whether or not someone prefers free or fair trade.
What is fair trade? Fairly traded products are attractive to consumers for a number of reasons. The system on which it is based is supposed to be more beneficial for farm workers and laborers in regards to safe working conditions and appropriate wages. In addition, certified fair trade products encourage environmental sustainability because the label indicates that producers are not using synthetic pesticides that could have deleterious effects on wildlife and soil health. Fair trade aims to alleviate poverty in developing countries because farmers would receive higher payment for their commodity.
All these reasons for buying fairly traded products are “feel good” reasons that are easy to market because they are based on emotion. But from an economic standpoint, is fair trade beneficial to the United States? Fair trade is designed to protect producers from production costs exceeding the price of their commodity by negotiating a price that takes into account the market as well as a minimum price to pay for production. The producers in underdeveloped countries are prioritized over buyers to ensure farmers receive a decent price for their commodity.
What is free trade? Free trade relies on the open and competitive market to set the price of a commodity. It discourages government intervention and instead relies on the market, meaning supply and demand, to appropriately determine a fair price for a commodity. Buyers and sellers should adequately respond to the actions of the consumer to determine an appropriate price.
Unlike fair trade, even if there is a downturn in the market for a particular product due to a lack in demand, buyers and sellers do not negotiate a price to compensate for the downturn so that the seller can receive a higher price. When free trade is truly free, it can be fair trade. Buyers and sellers are not at odds with each other as fair trade portrays them to be. With more sellers of a product and fewer buyers for that product, the price should decrease. On the other hand, with fewer sellers and more buyers, the price should increase. So it seems buyers are competing with other buyers and sellers are competing with other sellers.  
The issues that fairly traded products aim to address such as the environment, poverty, and unsafe laborer conditions are all worthy causes. However, if buyers are going to have pay more for a product in order to abide by fair trade rules, is that decision going to trickle down to consumers and force them to pay more for a commodity simply because it has a label that says, “fair trade certified”? When it affects the consumer’s pocketbook, I don’t know how willing they will be to pay a higher price for something that has cheaper alternatives.  

Agriculture and Technology by Elise Oliver

The central valley of California is home to some of the most productive farmland in the world. Agriculture generates $47 billion in sales each year for California. This billion-dollar industry has grown in sophistication so that agriculture involves more than the basics of planting a seed, watering it, and watching it grow until it is ready to harvest. This sophistication is in the form of technological innovation. Research and technology has allowed agricultural processes to increase efficiencies.  
For example, we see this technological innovation taking place in the almond industry. Almonds grown in California supply the entire nation and comprise 80 percent of the world’s reserve. However, almond farmers face a major obstacle in that almonds require a tremendous amount of water. Technology has helped to combat the drought by increasing the precision in how much water each almond tree receives. Moisture sensors document activity in the soil and send the information to the cloud. This information is transferred to the irrigation system in which it will respond accordingly depending on the results. Water is then mixed with a precise amount of fertilizer and is administered to multiple areas of the tree’s circumference to promote more efficient water uptake. This method uses less water due to its precision and thus has helped the industry respond to major obstacles.
California agriculture is unique compared to the rest of the nation’s farming because of the sheer number of crops our climate allows us to grow. Our Mediterranean climate permits farmers to grow a multitude of commodities as compared to the Midwest, which prospers in a select few crops such as wheat, corn, and soybeans. These Midwestern crops are undoubtedly important for the nation, as a lot of them go toward feed for cattle. But Californian commodities face a unique set of challenges, as we specialize in what is known as specialty crops. We hear this term spoken in common vernacular but its meaning can become lost. As defined by the USDA for funding purposes, specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and dried fruits. Only about three percent of cropland is utilized to grow specialty crops, but because they mandate higher prices, they comprise a quarter of the value of crops grown in the United States.
Californian specialty crop farmers face interesting challenges since their commodities must maintain freshness from the time they are harvested to the time they make it to the supermarket. This can become difficult when California produce is being shipped all the way across the country. For example, it is technology and research that has helped to overcome these logistical challenges. It took research to figure out how to package salad in bags that would still allow the lettuce to breath. While this may not seem like technology in the conventional sense, fresh-bagged salad was a major victory for the industry.   
Specialty crop growers have a tremendous responsibility to supply the nation with its produce and nuts, yet it only receives one-half of one percent of subsidies, with the remaining going to grains. Midwestern farmers have somewhat of an advantage over our California specialty crop growers in that they can gather together and form a strong coalition to ensure their needs are heard. Because agriculture in California is so diversified, it becomes more difficult to form strong coalitions to lobby, since our different farmers have different needs. The disparity in funding for research from the government that specialty crop growers receive compared to growers of corn, wheat, and soybeans is baffling since California farmers supply the nation with its fruits, vegetables, and nuts.                                                 Technology in agriculture has certainly progressed, with more and more growers recognizing the importance of investing in research in order to improve their commodities and be competitive in the market. But specialty crop growers alone cannot fund the research in technological innovation. Luckily the USDA in recent years has begun to allocate more subsidies to specialty crop growers, recognizing their important role to the nation.

Al Qaeda: A Lurking Threat by Sam Singh

     It’s been 15 years since the whole world was shaken—and all of America was in mourning. Three thousand families lost people they loved in the carnage that was the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I was 5 years old when the Twin Towers came crashing down, and all I remember is that no one knew what to do, how to feel, or who to blame. Very soon after we found out that the culprits weren’t faulty flight plans, or sleeping pilots, or whatever else we would have thought possible. It was a form of terrorism that America wasn’t accustomed to yet. 
       We had all hoped that it was just some horrible accident. I remember thinking that no one could have intentionally done it, but I was so terribly wrong. It was a coordinated attack by an Islamic terrorist organization the likes of which the world had never seen. Al Qaeda didn’t hold back after the attack—videos were posted continuously celebrating their “achievement.” Killing Americans simply wasn’t enough—the videos served a purpose. They were meant to kick us when we were already down. The group was led by a man that we all know too well nowadays, Osama bin Laden.
       In the mainstream global news, al Qaeda seems to be a thing of the past. The media likes to focus on easy headlines, and in the world of terrorism, ISIS paves the way in easy headlines. The group has without a doubt become the face of modern Islamic terrorism and is a threat to the world, but it has caused America to turn a blind eye to what is arguably a greater danger.
       America must look to protect our own homeland first and foremost, and this is one of the essential reasons ISIS isn’t our most immediate threat. “ISIS” itself stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, meaning the leaders of the organization want to prioritize establishing the Caliphate in the Middle East before expanding outward into the Western world. The Caliphate, a Muslim territory ruled by a single Islamic leader, is the end goal of almost all Islamic terrorist organizations, but some organizations want to do it sooner rather than later. If reports of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are true, however, the organization may have been temporarily weakened. This setback is only made more severe by the progress made by U.S. and Iraqi forces in driving ISIS insurgents out of Iraq, the place ISIS aims to conquer before spreading west.
       ISIS has on numerous occasions threatened to attack America, yet there has been no large-scale coordinated attack on U.S. soil by the organization. ISIS has claimed credit for various smaller-scale attacks carried out by its sympathizers, but in these instances there typically are no signs of actual coordination between the group’s leaders and the perpetrators of the attacks. The point is, ISIS has not prioritized attacking America. The same cannot be said for al Qaeda.
       Ayman al-Zawahiri, the successor to bin Laden, has followed in bin Laden’s footsteps when it comes to practicing patience. Bin Laden wanted al Qaeda to wait to establish the Caliphate, because he knew it to be a task too large to accomplish in a matter of years, even decades. This approach means that al Qaeda isn’t concerned with beating ISIS to the end goal of a Caliphate or even beating them for easy headlines. Al Qaeda has the patience to forego its ambitions in the Middle East (for a time), and in the meantime, it has targeted the United States and our allies on numerous occasions in large-scale, well-organized attacks.
       Also, the war in Afghanistan has only intensified al Qaeda’s hatred for America. Though ISIS has obtained significant amounts of money and resources through its pillaging campaigns, it means nothing without proper structure and leadership. ISIS has become notorious for stealing large sums of money, but also spending it immediately to arm insurgents for small-scale attacks in the Middle East. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, has been operating for a very long time and has learned how to allocate its funds for maximum efficiency.
       The other cause for alarm is that al Qaeda likes to operate incrementally. It takes a lot of time planning a large attack that will have a global impact, and then hatches the plan at the most opportune moment. Although al Qaeda hasn’t lost its funding, structure, or leadership in recent years, it still hasn’t launched another attack on the United States. That’s good news, however, this could allude to another large-scale attack in the works, and potentially one that could again shake the world the same way 9/11 did. While the media is preoccupied with focusing on what ISIS inspired Islamists are doing in the European Union, al Qaeda is likely plotting against the United States once again.

The Causes and Effects of California’s Drought by Sam Singh

          California, known worldwide as the Golden State, is starting to look more dry and brown than golden. The bread basket” of the world is losing its most vital resource. No, not Hollywood A-listersCalifornia is losing its water. That means our long-standing drought isn't just affecting how often we can water our lawns or wash our cars in our driveways; it’s reducing the amount of food we can grow.
          Reductions in California’s agricultural output affect the whole nation since the state is responsible for producing up to a quarter of America’s food. So how exactly did America’s largest food-growing state end up in a record-breaking drought? The largest misconceptions are that it just isn’t raining enough, or there hasn’t been enough snowpack, or Central Valley farmers are overusing water, or that it’s all due to global warming. But the truth is, the drought is almost entirely man-made—and it’s not being perpetuated by Valley farmers, but by politicians and bureaucrats who slap crushing environmental regulations on the Valley’s water supply.
          Ironically, the lawmakers who set the rules for what the majority of Californians can or can't do with their water are entirely unaffected by their own legislation. They have their own water supply sent in from Hetch Hetchy, and that supply isn’t subject to the regulations they impose on the Central Valley. One would think they’d at least consult Valley food-growers to see what their needs are, right? Wrong. Even though Valley farmers are responsible for one of the largest economic sectors in the state (and the country), their outcries against anti-water legislation seem to fall on deaf ears. If the politicians aren’t listening to the farmers themselves or to the field workers who are losing their only sources of income as dried up farms go out of production, then to whom exactly are they listening?
          Simply put, the legislators are listening to deep-pocketed “environmental protection” organizations. These groups file endless lawsuits claiming that water used in agriculture hurts local wildlife, namely the chinook salmon and especially the delta smelt. That’s right, American farmers are losing their income, food production is being curtailed, and the local economy is taking a massive hit, all for the sake of the smelta three-inch baitfish. And keep in mind that these “environmental” groups may not have the most altruistic motives—they are making millions from these lawsuits. At this point, they have profiting off environmental lawsuits down to a science, and they have turned that science into a multi-million-dollar business.
          Environmental lawsuits are largely to blame for California’s water crisis, but they’re enabled by bad legislation that needs to be revoked or drastically amended. The problem really began with Congress’ passage of the Endangered Species Act, which has served as the basis of some of the most destructive anti-water lawsuits. Since then other anti-water bills have been passed, most notably the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. In recent years, numerous bills have passed the House of Representatives to amend these laws in order to secure adequate water for the Central Valley, but none of them have been approved in the Senate. 
          Now that we have established the broad, overlying causes of California’s historic drought, let’s look at the drought’s effects. California, which is America’s largest state economy, has traditionally produced about one-quarter of the nation's food. What happens when such a crucial state begins to lose its premier economic sector? When food production is curtailed, other sectors take significant hits as well. Manufacturers are no longer being commissioned to make as much farm or harvesting equipment, so they have to lay off employees. Companies that package the freshly harvested produce aren’t seeing all the business they traditionally had, so they have to downsize too. All this lost production and lost employment depresses economic growth. Furthermore, with less produce coming out of the Valley, there is less for consumers to buy, meaning there is less money coming back to our local and state economies, further crippling our ability to produce more food and goods.
          Because the demand for California food remains high but the supply is falling, prices are rising for locally grown and harvested produce. Once prices reach a certain threshold, demand for California produce will fall as people turn to cheaper alternatives.
          Many people outside California may not personally be affected by the problemswitching to imported produce may not strike them as a major problem, even if it’s not as good as California-grown food. But for the farm workers and field hands here, it means the ability to make ends meet and to feed their families. Liberal politicians continually preach about how crucial migrants are for the agriculture sector, but then they enact and support anti-water legislation that puts these very same migrants out of work. Shanty towns have sprung up in the San Joaquin Valley full of migrant families who have lost their jobs in agriculture, as many California farmers don’t have enough water to keep all their land in production.
           For many people outside California, the difference is simply the number on the price tag. For the families of California's Central Valley, it's much more.