Puzzling over water and agricultural economics

I do not understand this. Not being rhetorical or coy. I really do not understand this.

I’ve observed before that Yuma and Imperial counties, the two farm regions that have benefitted from enormous allocations of Colorado River water and the support of the federal government that goes with it, have some of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Yesterday Bruce Ross pointed to a study that found that, if Central California (a similar water beneficiary) were its own state, it would be the poorest in the country. Bruce observes:

What does it say about America’s farm system that the vital source of most of America’s fruits, nuts and vegetables is poorer than Mississippi?

Getting a lot of water seems more like a curse than a benefit?


  1. It says that our farm counties are so incredibly productive that the cost of food is very low and therefore the workers are not paid very much. (It also says a thing or two about immigration policy, but that’s a lot more complicated.) Food is so incredibly cheap that we can, according to a quick google, throw away 36 million tons of it annually, representing approximately 40% of the total food produced.

    (This provides some comfort to people concerned about climate change. There is so much slack in the system that we could see a substantial reduction in the productivity of farmland and not change the cost of food one penny.)

  2. It says that the supply of labor exceeds demand, so that people will work for peanuts. They can’t move easily b/c they are poor and unskilled (and perhaps afraid of authorities), so they stay put, earning “rice and beans” wages.

    High productivity (btw, Francis) is NOT synonymous with poverty. Ask any Apple employee.

    This situation, in CA, FL, TX, and other labor intensive ag states is exactly the way farmers like it.

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