Monday, June 29, 2015

Cotton Subsidies and the Drought

Why does California have a severe water shortage despite the billions that have been spent on collecting, storing and moving water? Crop subsidies. Much of California's water is used to raise crops that need a lot of water, such as cotton. Really cotton shouldn't be grown in the U.S. at all, and the only reason it is is that the government pays out massive subsidies to cotton growers:
Getting plants to grow in the Sonoran Desert is made possible by importing billions of gallons of water each year. Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in existence, and each acre cultivated here demands six times as much water as lettuce, 60 percent more than wheat. That precious liquid is pulled from a nearby federal reservoir, siphoned from beleaguered underground aquifers and pumped in from the Colorado River hundreds of miles away. …

Over the last 20 years, Arizona’s farmers have collected more than $1.1 billion in cotton subsidies, nine times more than the amount paid out for the next highest subsidized crop. In California, where cotton also gets more support than most other crops, farmers received more than $3 billion in cotton aid.

…If Arizona’s cotton farmers switched to wheat but didn’t fallow a single field, it would save some 207,000 acre-feet of water — enough to supply as many as 1.4 million people for a year.
The hold that cotton and sugar farmers have over the U.S. government has been one of the most puzzling and ridiculous features of our democracy for as long as I have been following politics. And yet despite innumerable calls for reform and myriad calls to rein in Federal spending, the farce goes on.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

To be fair, the US is the third biggest cotton producer in the world.

Additionally, all our major competitors are industrial rivals of sorts - chiefly India and China, who beat us out for 2nd and 1st place respectively, but also Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkey, among others.

The really interesting difference between us and everyone else is that we do not import significant amounts of cotton, while they all do.

China, for example, is not only the leading producer of cotton, but also the leading importer of it. Their demand for cotton is so staggering that even though they produce roughly a third of all cotton on earth, they still import another 7.5% worth of the planet's cotton production on top of their own.

In contrast, our total cotton consumption is less than 1% of global production.

Our cotton industry is essentially a modern, mechanized variation of the same cash crop exportionation system we've run since the days of Colonialism.

Now, as for whether the benefits of continuing to maintain such a system actually outweigh the costs... well, that's another matter entirely.