Am I, really? Rick Bastach’s book on water in Oregon is very interesting and makes a fundamental observation about farming: Agriculture is a business, not a virtue. Farmers are as ethical (and unethical) as the rest of us. Like other businesses, they employ lobbyists to sway legislators and they operate P.R. campaigns to garner public support for what they want to do. That is why people like Commissioner of Agriculture Putnam greatly exaggerate the economic importance of agriculture. It makes the adverse consequences of being the largest water user (and probably the biggest water polluter) seem more acceptable.
Pretty much, agriculture is winning on all aspects of water competition. Here’s only a sampling of how victorious Florida agriculture is in water management:
Disproportionate influence in regional water management. For example, the chair of the SFWMD governing board is an employee of one of the largest farm corporations in the state. The chair of the SRWMD board is Treasurer of the Florida Cattleman’s Association. The secretary of the SJRWMD board is the executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League. Pretty good representation for less than 2% of the state’s domestic product.
Special state elected office. In the 21st century, it no longer makes economic or democratic sense for the small Florida agriculture industry to have one of four elected state offices. (Should we have a State Restaurant General, a Trucking Secretary, or a Golf Czar?)
Not all of Florida agriculture feeds you at all or feeds you well:
When Commissioner Putnam talks about agricultural “food and fiber” he doesn’t mention that the largest single agricultural employer is “environmental horticulture.” Another large agricultural sector, the sugarcane industry, makes a subsidized product that the more you eat of it, the more likely it is you will have diabetes. [March 20 addition: As discussed in this study.] Not all agriculture is the same and Floridians should be sure that their finite supplies of water are being used efficiently and for the best purposes.
So, I hope that I am not too much of an agricultural meanie. Florida agriculture is a very powerful interest group, very well able to take care of itself. Like any other economic activity, it has a mix of very beneficial and not-so-beneficial water users. It should not be exempt from analysis and criticism, any more than public water supply or phosphate mining.