How does a farmer make planting plans for next year when no one knows if or how much irrigation water will be available? And will the economy begin to grow again.
As they await answers to those questions, farmers and ranchers all over California have put off making their crop plans as long as they can, hoping for some solid information about water allocations and the economy.
Mike Young farms in several Kern County locations and obtains most of his irrigation water from the State Water Project. He says he plans to wait as long as he can before he makes decisions about what to plant on his vacant land. He knows he needs to provide water to his permanent crops of cherries, pistachios and almonds, and has some well water.
“After three years of pumping, the quality of that water isn’t that great,” says Young, who is immediate past president of the Kern County Farm Bureau.
At this time of year, he usually negotiates for bank loans and contracts to grow crops on his vacant land, where he raises tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. But Young says it’s difficult to obtain a loan or a contract when lender and processor are not certain there will be water to produce a crop. Other farmers face similar quandaries.
Crucial Time Approaches
Fresno County Farm Bureau President Dan Errotabere says he has to make decisions now regarding fall planting of crops.
“Garlic is one,” he says. “We’re on drip irrigation now, so we can manage pretty well, but it’s another year of heavy groundwater pumping that I’m a little concerned about.”
Errotabere farms within the Westlands Water District, where farmers saw supplies from the federal Central Valley Project cut to just 10 percent of contract amounts this year. He usually plants cantaloupes in the fall, but isn’t certain he will have enough water this autumn. Ground preparation for planting tomatoes next spring needs to be done before the rains come, to avoid trying to do all the work in mud. He says he hopes he and other farmers on the CVP get a decent water allocation next season, so they can reduce groundwater use.
Errotabere says he hopes to maintain the same cropping pattern in 2010 as this past season, but, he adds, “that also includes 1,200 acres being fallowed” – a third of his ground within the Westlands Water District.
“I hope it won’t be that difficult again, but we’re prepared. If we have to fallow, we have to fallow,” he says.
Praying For Rain
Merced County farmer Pat Borelli has about 120 acres of ground in the CVP service area. He’s planted winter oats and hopes there is enough rain to get a crop without irrigation.
“That’s about it,” he says, “Last year, I worked the ground to plant cotton, and then learned I wouldn’t have enough water, so I planted 20 acres of beans,” which require less water.
If there is water available, he says he could plant beans again after the oats are harvested, planting as late as June.
Merced County Farm Bureau president Peter Koch says the east side of the county has adequate water. Irrigation districts in that part of the county obtain water that does not have to go through the delta and thus avoids restrictions to protect endangered species. Farmers in that region are able to plan now about how to use their ground next season.
However, even a wet winter may not provide much added irrigation water in some regions because of Endangered Species Act requirements. Those rules and resulting court decisions require operators of state and federal water projects to reserve more water for delta smelt, salmon and other species.
Fresno County farmer and Westlands Water District spokesperson Sarah Woolf says, “The Bureau of Reclamation (that operates the CVP) has estimated that even with the heaviest rainfall, the highest numbers that we could get would be 40 percent of our water supply allocations.
California Farm Bureau Federation originally published this story. For additional information, contact Ron Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.