In recent years VICE has emerged as a new voice in the world of broadcast journalism. Their popularity online stemmed from a short lived appearance on HBO, a widely seen series on ISIS, and ground level reporting on the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Their gritty style and causal appearance immediately made them a popular news source for young people, who largely translate their no frills approach as raw truth. Now they've branched off with a news reporting division which covers a wide variety of sensational topics, both overseas and here in the United States. It's no surprise that a VICE NEWS crew landed in California this summer to cover the drought.
Their 12 minute piece on the California drought, and how farmers are operating within the drought, is packed with errors, misleading information, and slant. Below I'll list some of the "truths" stated in the piece, and offer another point of view.
California Is Predominantly Desert
So stated a woman from The Oakland Institute as pictures of flooded rice fields and almond orchards stream across the screen. Yeah, sure... there's desert in California: Joshua Tree, Mojave, Tehachapi, but those areas are far from anywhere food is grown. Part of what makes California great is the diversity of its landscape. Beaches, Mountains, Lush Valleys, and yes, some Desert. In the VICE NEWS story it is implied that rice and almonds are grown in the desert. It's a ridiculous notion to us locals, but accepted as truth to the unknowing viewers in Chicago, London, or Moscow; places that don't know any better and trust VICE to tell the truth. The truth is that these crops are grown in the Mediterranean climate of the central valley, where soil is fertile, and water is typically in abundant supply from the many rivers and creeks which flow through the region.
Farmers Use 80% Of The State Water Supply
This stat has been floating around for about a year now, and it's dead wrong. As stated by the Northern California Water Association, agriculture uses 41% of the states water. 49% is allocated to environmental use, 7% of which is simply dumped into the Sacramento River Delta and flushed out into the ocean.
In the same breath the reporter inaccurately declared 80%, she pointed out that Ag makes up 2% of the states economy. While this is true, it's misleading to compare Ag's water use to it's economic contribution. It naturally leads the viewer to think that all areas of the California State Economy are water dependent (which they aren't), and that Ag is hoarding water at the expense of another industry (which it isn't). It's also worth noting that the 2% they're referring to adds up to more than 40 billion dollars. VICE, of course, uses the smaller sounding number to diminish its value and force the unknowing viewers support away from Ag.
"Homeowners are forced to let their lawns go brown, but farmers get to flood their fields."
This mind boggling comment was stated by reporter Nilo Tabrizy as an example of how farmers are hoarding water and hanging citizens out to dry. I would love to hear her explain exactly what she was implying by including this line in her script. Does she think farmers should discontinue farming, providing jobs, and providing food to the world so citizens can have green lawns? Certainly if pressed on this point she would pull back and say she was suggesting nothing of the sort. Still... she said it, and when intermixed in the piece at large, it serves as an indictment against farmers and their water use, and again helps push the viewer away from supporting Ag.
The Powerful Ag Lobby
In the video it is suggested by the reporter that farmers get an unfair distribution of water because of the powerful Ag Lobby. They reference tens of millions of dollars in campaign donations and imply that those donations somehow buy influence. Assuming that's even true, it doesn't come close to the wealth and power of the Environmental Lobby. The Natural Resources Defense Council alone spent $119.4 million in 2014 (numbers taken from their own website NRDC.org). The Ag Lobby, if there even is one, doesn't even come close to matching the financial power and influence of the Environmental Lobby. But did VICE mention this? Of course not.
Clearly VICE came into this piece with a fixed agenda: paint farmers as the villains of the water crisis, and lay the blame for the drought at their feet. Even with all of this misinformation and slant, the most damning tactic VICE takes is omitting key information which would absolutely change the attitude of the viewer.
The video fails to mention that farmers water allocation has been cut for two years. Some farmers were cut 25%, some 40%, some 100%. It's not even close to the free-for-all portrayed in the video.
The video fails to mention the the precision farming methods sweeping the industry. Utilizing the latest in GPS technology, farmers are able to till, plant, irrigate, and harvest with pinpoint precision, so that waste is minimized, and often eliminated altogether.
The video fails to mention that water use in Ag has not significantly restricted or compromised water use of any other industry, or entity. In fact, other than lawn watering restrictions, I know of no other water restrictions in Northern California, other than the restrictions imposed on Ag.
The video fails to mention the water conservation methods farmers have adopted in recent years. Drip irrigation technology, no spill policies, and rotating to less water consumptive crops are just a few of the measures farmers have taken in the interest of saving water.
The video fails to mention the priceless habitat that flood irrigated rice fields provide to the environment. Millions of local and migratory birds use flooded rice fields for nesting, feeding, and resting. Without such agriculture, the birds would have limited options, and wildlife populations would suffer.
The video fails to mention the recent well drilling moratoriums. I don't know how many counties have already put these in place, but in Colusa County, Glenn County, and the Paso Robles Water Basin, drilling new wells has been halted. I'm sure there are many others, and more will soon follow.
I could go on, but I think the point is made. VICE is another news source who can't be trusted to tell a story without bias. They have proven it with their blatant attack on California Agriculture. But we farmers will move on past the unfairly bad P.R. and continue to do what's in the best interest of the land, natural resources, and the State Economy. It's what we've done for generations, and will continue for generations to come.