When Bart Fisher returned home from college in 1972, his family’s alfalfa fields outside Blythe in California’s southeastern desert produced seven tons of alfalfa per acre. Today, the Fishers get ten tons per acre from the same land. They do it with the same amount of water as a much younger Fisher and his family used four decades ago.
Growing water-use efficiency on farms like Fisher’s is one of the salient features of the evolution of agriculture in the developed world. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Palo Verde and the desert agricultural valleys of southwestern North America. These regions challenge two common narratives about water. The first is that we are blind to a looming disaster, sucking down water and ignoring a reality that will, in the words of Charles Bowden, “slap us in the face and we will have to snap alert. And this slap may come from our kitchen faucet….” It is the narrative most famously captured by the journalist Marc Reisner in his polemic Cadillac Desert, often read as a prediction that we are on a path toward “an apocalyptic collapse of western US society.”
From the Editors
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