Soapbox

Pacific trade pact is a good deal for rice farmers, waterfowl

Long-billed dowitchers forage in a rice field in Meridian last September. Increased rice exports under a proposed Pacific trade deal could also benefit migrating waterfowl, some say.
Long-billed dowitchers forage in a rice field in Meridian last September. Increased rice exports under a proposed Pacific trade deal could also benefit migrating waterfowl, some say. Sacramento Bee file

There has been a lot of press about the Trans-Pacific Partnership leading up to a possible vote this week on “fast-track” authority for the Obama administration to negotiate a final deal.

Some proponents laud it as the future of Pacific Rim trade. Some decry it as a further erosion of American jobs and the environment.

What does it practically mean for the Sacramento region?

The agriculture and food sector is one of our top economic drivers, supporting nearly 40,000 jobs and $3.5 billion a year in economic input. The value of crop production grew to $2.15 billion in 2013; it is the one sector showing strong growth throughout the recession and contributing positively to the nation’s trade balance.

Agriculture was the second biggest export sector for our region in 2014; combined with agriculture-related products and machinery, it provided $1.4 billion in total exports. Because of our region’s location, we are uniquely situated to capitalize on the demand for exports to Asia, and to bolster our North and South American trade opportunities.

In the case of our valley’s iconic crop – rice – the Pacific trade agreement will expand markets for the next generation of farmers. Today our best export market for rice is Japan. The TPP promises to expand that trade and improve the bottom line for family farms battered by the drought.

Expanding the rice market could be good for wildlife, too. The 4 million to 6 million waterfowl that call the Central Valley home in the winter rely heavily on flooded rice fields for food. Upward of 60 percent of the diet of ducks and geese comes from rice fields that farmers flood after harvest.

Family farms and waterfowl both benefit from increased production the following spring. Farmers have taken care of their rice straw and waterfowl return to their northern breeding grounds in great shape due to the plentiful food resources farmers have provided. It’s a win for both.

A legitimate question often raised is the effect of exporting water as a byproduct of trade. Would the TPP simply allow for more export of our region’s water in the form of raw agricultural products?

While it may seem to be the case, increased exports will actually keep more of the water in the Valley. During drought, there is increased movement of water from the Sacramento region to meet the demands of urban users and of farmers in other regions. In the long-term, however, economics will play an ever-increasing role.

Strong demand for rice, wheat, tomatoes and other crops grown in the Sacramento Valley ensures that farmers will continue to grow those crops and that our region and the plethora of wildlife that utilize them, continue to enjoy the water that irrigates those fields.

For our region, the TPP will improve our economic opportunities and continue to build one of our key regional advantages – agriculture – while at the same time supporting our environment.

Mark Biddlecomb is Western region director for Ducks Unlimited. Tim Johnson is president and CEO of the California Rice Commission. Bill Mueller is CEO of Valley Vision.

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