Ag Policy Blog
Jerry Hagstrom DTN Political Correspondent

Saturday 02/15/14

President Promises Drought Aid, Talks About Climate Change

Visiting the farm of the son of a California migrant farm worker near Los Banos Calif., on Friday, President Barack Obama promised drought aid to all parts of the state, but also called on Californians to unite to fight climate change.

Also on Friday, a spokeswoman for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack confirmed that local Farm Service Agency offices will begin accepting disaster applications from livestock producers on April 15. Vilsack noted Thursday that Obama had directed USDA to expedite the disaster programs by implementing them in 60 days rather the usual six to eight months it usually takes to write regulations.

DTN's update earlier this week on livestock disaster programs in the farm bill can be viewed here:…

The White House released a transcript of Obama’s remarks, and the White House traveling press corps reported pool accounts of the day.

After walking and surveying the fields of farmer Joe Del Bosque and his wife, Maria, Obama noted that Del Bosque had started in farming by telling landowners that he would offer to grow cantaloupes on their land, as long as they paid him for what he produced, and that this led to his farm that now grows,cantaloupes, almonds and cherries.

But on Friday, Obama and Del Bosque surveyed fields that did not have the asparagus shoots, almonds or melons they should have because they have not gotten water.

Obama said Del Bosque told him that there are three things that make farming work in California: “soil, water, and people.”

In addition to the family’s precarious situation, people who are dependent on sales from his farm, including seasonal workers, will be without work or incomes this summer if there is no water.

“As anybody in this state could tell you, California’s living through some of its driest years in a century,” Obama said.

“Right now, almost 99% of California is drier than normal. While drought in regions outside the West is expected to be less severe than in other years, California is our biggest economy, California is our biggest agricultural producer, so what happens here matters to every working American, right down to the cost of food that you put on your table.”

Obama then announced the livestock disaster and conservation aid. The president also waded into congressional drought aid politics, calling the bill that California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Rep. Jim Costa, all Democrats, had developed “outstanding,” and declaring that he hopes

“Congress considers the legislation that they have crafted soon.”

Obama did not mention a bill that passed the Republican-dominated House that would allow California an exemption from certain environmental regulations and that his advisers said they would recommend he veto.

Obama then switched to the topic of climate change.

“Let’s make sure that we're getting some short-term relief to folks, but also long-term certainty for people who are going to be harmed by this drought,” he said.

“These actions will help, but they’re just the first step,” Obama said.

“We have to be clear: A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher. Droughts have obviously been a part of life out here in the West since before any of us were around and water politics in California have always been complicated, but scientific evidence shows that a changing climate is going to make them more intense.”

“What does all this mean?” Obama asked, and then answered his own question.

“Unless and until we do more to combat carbon pollution that causes climate change, this trend is going to get worse. And the hard truth is even if we do take action on climate change, carbon pollution has built up in our atmosphere for decades. The planet is slowly going to keep warming for a long time to come. So we’re going to have to stop looking at these disasters as something to wait for; we've got to start looking at these disasters as something to prepare for, to anticipate, to start building new infrastructure, to start having new plans, to recalibrate the baseline that we're working off of.”

“Everybody, from farmers to industry to residential areas, to the north of California and the south of California and everyplace in between, as well as the entire Western region are going to have to start rethinking how we approach water for decades to come,” Obama added.

When he went with a group of Californians to discuss the drought, the president said “We can't think of this simply as a zero-sum game.”

“It can't just be a matter of there’s going to be less and less water so I'm going to grab more and more of a shrinking share of water. Instead what we have to do is all come together and figure out how we all are going to make sure that agricultural needs, urban needs, industrial needs, environmental and conservation concerns are all addressed. And that's going to be a big project, but it's one that I'm confident we can do.”

Obama said that his own climate action plan had been designed to protect critical sectors of the economy, noting that the Agriculture Department has announced seven new climate hubs to help farmers and ranchers adapt their operations to a changing climate.

One hub is located at the University of California at Davis, he pointed out.

Obama said the fiscal year 2015 budget he will send to Congress will include funding for new technologies to help communities “prepare for a changing climate.”

In the town hall meeting, he said, “not everybody agreed on anything except people did agree that we can't keep on doing business as usual. That's what people did understand — that there has to be a sense of urgency about this.”

California has the advantage, Obama said, of being on the cutting-edge with technologies such as drip irrigation.

“Already you use water far more efficiently than you did decades ago,” Obama said. “You do it smarter. “

In conclusion, Obama said “I want to make sure that every Californian knows —whether you’re NorCals, SoCal, here in the Central Valley — your country is going to be there for you when you need it this year.”

“But we're going to have to all work together in the years to come to make sure that we address the challenge and leave this incredible land embodied to our children and our grandchildren in at least as good shape as we found it.”

Obama flew from Washington to Fresno and then took a helicopter to the San Luis District Water Facility for a roundtable with community leaders.

As the helicopter landed, the dryness was dramatized by a huge wind from the rotors that covered waiting reporters with dirt, according to the White House pool report. After the meeting he went on the farm tour.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Posted at 8:33AM CST 02/15/14 by Jerry Hagstrom
Comments (6)
Did the Pres. state? "make sure that agriculture, urban needs, industrial needs, environmental and conservation concerns are all addressed". Is that not what the Army Corp. of Engs. was supposed to be doing?
Posted by Bonnie Dukowitz at 5:49AM CST 02/17/14
There is a lot of water sitting around in the Dakotas. Maybe we should be investing in canals for irrigation and diversion. That is utilizing our resources. We have waterfowl levels 2-5 times of normal. With todays policies I don't understand the end goal it seems to be more of a control issue.
Posted by Unknown at 5:54PM CST 02/17/14
The problem in California is simply too many people in the wrong place. We don't need to grow government to solve that! Yet here we are - never ending climate change used as an excuse for never ending government. More than a few of us knew it would come to this, there's no denying it now!
Posted by Curt Zingula at 6:46AM CST 02/18/14
We have trillions and trillions of gallons of excess water where I live in Ohio. In fact, the water table is getting so high that it is cumbersome. I say pipe Ohio's water out to California in exchange for fruits, vegetables, and nuts (th edible nuts, not the human ones!).
Posted by tom vogel at 8:12AM CST 02/18/14
Not to deny concerns or my part of being responsible, it would be interesting to see a picture of temperature differences on the earths surface. I would guess Chicago and L.A. might be warm spots. As the weatherman, on a daily basis reports the Metro areas 5 to 10 degrees warmer than neighboring rural areas, I would assume this might have a lot to do with the change. One driving through an urban area at night, it is almost impossible to see the sky do to reflextion from needless ground illumination. It seems people just want to waste energy for various reasons, then deny being responsible. For what it is worth-We do not let our car idle when in a store and we turn out the lights when not in the room.
Posted by Bonnie Dukowitz at 8:20AM CST 02/18/14
I wonder when they are going to bring up rice paddies producing about 20% of the worlds methane, which is worse than carbon, by about 20 times. I wonder why he didn't bring up all the water diverted to take care of minimally different strain of fish to keep it from going extinct, that smelt there isn't really different from others around. And why didn't they bring up the tree rings show the last century was the second wettest out of the last 12? Maybe it is suppose to be dry.
Posted by CRAIG MOORE at 9:19AM CST 02/19/14
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