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Myths endure about farming in California
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Californians are amazing.

Most can rattle off the smallest details of Paris Hilton's latest escapades, navigate the Internet with ease, and Tweet with expertise about the reality show du jour.

But when it comes to arguably the state's most vital concern - agriculture - they can't separate myths from the truth.

There are those who pooh-pooh agriculture as a dead industry in California. It's a laughable proposition if it wasn't so arrogant.

Man, contrary to popular belief, does not live by flat screen HD television alone.

Many of us dismiss agriculture for several reasons. First, less than two percent of the population is tied directly to farming anymore. That's down from over 50 percent just 120 years ago. At the same time, most of us spend just 9.8 percent of our income on food. That's down from 13.9 percent in 1970 and from almost 30 percent in the 1920s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

California's 81,500 farms and ranches produced more than 400 different crops valued at $36.2 billion in 2008. The eight-county San Joaquin Valley region alone had enough farm production that if it were a separate state it would lead the union in agricultural output.

Farming is anything but dead in California.

Given how most Californians, though, buy into myths about farming it is amazing farming is still in existence.

The book "Silent Spring" in the 1960s documented the harmful impact of DDT and other pesticides. Farmers have significantly changed their practices to the point much of the concerns raised are now non-starters. That, however, doesn't weaken the myth that farmers are poisoning food.

It makes no sense. First, such use is highly regulated and the pollution penalties are off the charts. But more importantly farmers learned true stewardship of the land long before anyone else did. Those pesticides were killing the land and crops. The land provides a farmer's livelihood. It is also expensive to add anything whether it is fertilizer, water, or other substances to the growing process. Given the squeeze on what farmers get per unit of production, the only way they can make money is to keep costs down and to increase production.

If General Motors could do what a typical farmer does to keep true constant prices for their product down when indexed for inflation and do so while paying more for raw ingredients by learning how to be more efficient and produce tons more, they'd be bailing out the federal government.

Another myth that borders on gross ignorance is that farmers are somehow hicks. Not only are the most successful ones often college educated but they embrace science, international marketing, and high tech probably more so in practical ways than most other people.

They're not just planting seeds and selling produce on the corner. They monitor every step of the process to maximize production and market to the four corners of the earth.

The one myth that's poised to do serious damage to California farmers is one that is based on water.

Many people - from peripheral environmentalists to pundits - continue to claim agriculture uses between 70 and 80 percent of the state's water. That's wrong by a long shot.

The Department of Water Resources in 2009 released a study that shows 41 percent of our water goes to agriculture, 48 percent to protect the environment, and 11 percent to urban use.

Since 1970, agriculture's use of water has dropped 14 percent in California while there has been an increase in farmed acreage and an 84 percent increase in the value of crops produced.

Yet farm use is considered the big bogeyman by many in the shaping of California's water policies.

It is in our best interest as Californians who can't survive without eating to become as versed in the broad impacts and needs of farming as we are about Lady Gaga.