Drought Shortens the Season


Drought Shortens the Season
Posted August 26, 2014

Walking through the farmers' market, it may not be readily apparent that farmers are struggling to bring you fresh produce. In California, farmers and farm workers have been among those most heavily hit by the drought this year.

A recent UC Davis study predicts that 14,500 jobs will be lost this year just in the Central Valley because farms are getting only two-thirds of their typical water allocation. With fewer crops being planted, fewer workers are needed, and people have less money to support local businesses. With fewer crops to harvest after leaving some of their fields fallow, or growing a placeholder crop to keep the soil from eroding, some are even participating in fewer farmers' markets.

Most farmers are very conscious of their water usage. Utilizing drip irrigation, planting cover crops, applying green waste, and using crop rotation have helped some farmers maintain soil moisture and fertility while making the most out of its water use. Others are lucky to have wells on their property but don't like to use too much of the ground water because of pulling up the salinity in the ground - not good for crops!

Jesus Castellanos of Castellanos Farm in Dinuba says that he's had to drive wells deeper to get to the water. He says, "We are in critical condition. If 2 or 3 of my pumps dry up, we will go out of business because the bank does not finance them and there is no other way to make money...Not only does it cost $40,000 to $50,000 to drill for each pump, it will take 3 to 5 months to complete."

With crazy spring weather added to the drought, fruit crops have been arriving two to three weeks early this year and their seasonality is shortened. We saw asparagus arrive two weeks early and end quickly, certain peach varieties arrived in May instead of June and pears came in August when they should have been harvested in September. It's a wait-and-see for how the drought will affect fall and winter row crops and vegetables, but it will be rough.

drought peachesDrought affects entire rows of peaches because there is not enough well water.

Farmers are more worried about next year if we don't get a substantial amount of rain this winter. The cumulative effect of several years without rain means than ground water reserves will be extremely low.

Jesus says, "If my pumps dry up, I will have to let my workers go, who financially depend on working at my farm. However the worse is yet to come. I cannot imagine having to worry about our own drinking water. The water we drink comes from the pump at the farm and our house drinking water is not connected to the city's water. This means that we may have to move somewhere else to find drinking water."

You may not see the availability of produce change this year, but if rain doesn't come this winter and spring, farmers will be hard pressed to keep their acreage planted and watered now and the next few years.

On your next trip to your farmers' market expect to see fruits and certain vegetables arriving earlier than expected and have a shorter season. And let's all hope we have a rainy season ahead.

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