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Political Mercury

Northey: California water woes could help Iowa

4/22/2015

When Bill Northey reads about California’s historic water-shortage problems he thinks of cows.

Not cows for California.

But cows for Iowa’s dairy industry.

Northey, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, tells Political Mercury that he’s been having conversations with Iowa ag businesspeople about possible ways the Hawkeye State could take advantage of the increasingly desperate water problem facing California, one of the nation’s biggest agricultural regions.

Are there opportunities for Iowa?

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“You know, I think there might be,” Northey said. “Certainly there have been California farmers, with the dairy industry especially, they’ve been so big and successful in California, that have either had growth move out in the past — maybe it wasn’t around drought — but certainly could be around drought now and around feed production for those dairies. I think we certainly could bring some dairies here from California because of those challenges.”

California is in its fourth year of severe drought. Projections aren’t great either, leading to water-use restrictions focused mainly in the cities.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the majority of California is experiencing extreme to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and the state’s condition isn’t expected to improve in the near future.

The Drought Monitor, which collects data from 50 different weather indicators, has shown an increasingly red California since 2011, the last time the drought map was clear, The Times reports.

In the interview with Political Mercury, Northey said that when California was mentioned, his mind went to dairy right away. But the potential doesn’t stop there, he said.

“I can’t help but believe there could be some crops as well,” Northey said.

Almonds and cotton and “a large amount” of wine grapes wouldn’t be in Iowa’s wheelhouse, Northey said.

But he thinks there will be crop opportunities stemming from drought in California and elsewhere.

Northey said the California question has been starting to come up in Iowa ag circles.

“I’ve had just a few conversations,” Northey said. “I think we’ll have more.”

Northey said he expects to take a trip to California to scout potential for Iowa agriculture.

He sees the outreach being with dairymen.

“I’d certainly be interested in ratcheting that effort up,” Northey said.

Northey said dairy farms in California have expanded to Iowa in the past. With water rights being more valuable in California, a farm may be able to sell those to a city and move its dairy operations to Iowa.

 

“I think it’s a matter of tone,” Northey said. “I think you’re not about trying to profit off of somebody else’s problem. What you’re trying to do is make sure that everyone has a chance to decide on their own individual business where the right place to be is and what they want to do.” CV

 

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

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