From the Fields® - June 24, 2009
By John Garner, Colusa County rice grower, CFBF Water Advisory Com
One of our biggest concerns in the North State on the water issue is that we realize that areas south of Sacramento are important agricultural regions that we don't want to see go away. It is an important part of the industry statewide and if we lose that portion of California agriculture, it is going to be difficult to keep the infrastructure in place to keep agriculture in the North State viable.
The same goes for the delta. There are three legs here and we just can't lose any one of them. So it is important to let the people of California know and the legislators understand that California agriculture provides a tremendous input in the California economy. You just can't do away with it and keep this state viable.
As far as the Endangered Species Act and moving water south, we'd love to help the farmers in the south end of the state, but we just can't get the water to them. And we also recognize the water quality issue in the delta. If that water is taken away from the delta, it reduces their water quality and puts them in jeopardy. So there is a big educational process and we just haven't reached enough people to make them understand what is at risk. It just doesn't make any sense to be looking at paring down agriculture to take care of houses because all of those houses are dependant on California agriculture to a large extent.
By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County orchardist
In the big picture in Glenn County, we do have some water-short districts, but for the most part we are better off than the farmers in other parts of the state. We are looking at a 40 percent allocation, which really equates to about 20 percent of actual needs.
There are some areas in the county that are in an overdraft situation. There are wells that this early in the season are already going dry on us. So it is a wait-and-see situation to get an idea of how well the farmers make it through harvest. Some farmers are buying water from their neighbors. I have one neighbor who has already started sucking air on his wells, when last year he made it through to his last irrigation. The water table has dropped much quicker this year.
In Glenn County, we grow almonds, prunes, olives, rice, some row crops and dairies. So we are very diversified. Right now, all of our crops are looking pretty good. The summer so far has been in the cool side, which has definitely helped with our water situation.
By Russell Young, Yuba-Sutter County walnut grower
I live in the middle of the Sacramento Valley right along the river, so the water on my place is good. I pump out of the river and our supply is good. But because I do live where I do, not only is the surface water supply good, but groundwater supply is good.
But the cost of pumping is a concern. In the future, my concern is that my water rights will be affected. I've got riparian water rights. There's nothing I can see that's guaranteeing those rights. If I have to prove my water rights in court, I don't know how I'm going to do it without hiring an expensive attorney. But we've never been challenged on it.
By Mary Hildebrand, San Joaquin County diversified farmer
Our neighbor is leasing part of our land for processing tomatoes. The rest of our land is fallowed because we're concerned about whether there's enough water supply to get us through a whole season.
We're concerned about his tomatoes that he's growing on our land and we're not trying to plant the silage corn we normally would plant because we don't know if there's enough water to get through the summer. The channel that we pump out of for those fields is very degraded and we don't have good levels at our pumps. And because of the very reduced inflows and the poor water quality, we didn't want to risk planting silage this year, particularly since the prices are low; the dairies are struggling and the market is not there.
On the land that we're leasing for the processing tomatoes, we're keeping our fingers crossed that our neighbor will have water all summer to irrigate those, but we're very concerned about the water level.
On the land we fallowed, we made the final decision in May. If the prices had been good, it would have been a more difficult decision to fallow, but the fact that the prices are low, combined with the high risk of not having enough water, it just did not make sense to go ahead and plant.
By Jeff Marchini, Merced County diversified farmer
We farm in Fresno County, Merced County and on the coast in Monterey County. Fresno County is our biggest issue and we're dealing with it, but we are going to have problems in that area.
In Fresno County, we have a lot of ground set aside with wheat, but most of all we are just trying to service our almond acreage and keep them going, but that is going to be very difficult. We've cut our onion acreage back and are trying to hold everything to our almond acreage.
We are in interesting times right now and I know on the Westside we've been part of the march and trying to support our employees and what is going on there. I know there are going to be more things going on in July, but the biggest concern is the Westside.
Most of our production is in Merced County. Our situation there has improved, meaning we have more surface water from the water storages that we get our water from. We had a warm May so everything came off of the mountain, so I think at this point we're well positioned to be able to utilize that surface water.
By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified farmer
This year is a very, very difficult year. We came in from a dry year last year. We were able to save a little bit of water and move it into this year. We started off with a zero allocation, which meant that you had to make your plans based on zero. In early May we got a 10 percent allocation and we're hoping that maybe it could edge up, but it doesn't look real good.
What that means is we are pumping an extraordinary amount of groundwater and trying to manage with what little fresh water we got, for the crops that are sensitive to the salt. We hope that we get through the end of this year and hold a little bit of water for the following year in case we have a repeat. We really are hitting the groundwater pretty heavy and I worry about that long-term.
Our planting decision really comes down to crop revenue per acre-foot. So the first thing I'm taking care of are the almonds. I have to pay attention to water quality. I have to put some well water to them and some fresh water to calm that well water down so it doesn't hurt the trees. I have a little bit of canal water to help the germination of tomatoes, garlic and other vegetable crops that I did plant before finishing up with well water.
By Norm Groot, Orange County nursery operator
Water availability has affected our business. There are a number of communities that have expressed concern about water use in landscapes and have curtailed use for home landscapes. That has affected some sales for us. But, for the most part, consumers are still buying and planting in their yards.
At this point we have enough water at all of our growing facilities. They seem to have enough water to get by.
Demand seems to be pretty good. I think we're seeing that people are staying home, looking at their yards and deciding that they need to fix up their yards a little bit. That's typically what happens in an economy like this. We've gotten a little bit of a bump out of that. Where we are suffering though is in the landscape area, the larger jobs, the contracting situations are not happening at this point.
By Eric Anderson, San Diego County nursery producer
Last year we had to cut production by 30 percent to meet the terms of the MWD water supply agreement. I had to fallow areas of my production. That effect wasn't huge, but my concern is for the future. If there is to be an economic recovery for my business to improve, there needs to be water availability.
This year the Metropolitan Water District is allowing us to phase out those agreements and is encouraging us to pay municipal rates. We are starting to feel the higher rates right now as our production costs increase.
We've been looking at more drought-tolerant plants. We are growing more of the natives and succulents—things that use less water. There is demand for these. If there is going to be a market, there will be a market for plants that need less water. We still produce plants that we always have. Palms and interior plants, we continue producing them, but cutting back numbers on those. The economy has had an impact on demand. We are not selling nearly as much as in the past. We are still surviving and need to be certain that water will be available.