California has been the nation’s leading agricultural and dairy state for the past 50 years. The state’s 80,500 farms and ranches produce more than 400 different agricultural products. These products generated a record $44.7 billion in sales value in 2012, accounting for 11.3 percent of the US total.
Breaking down the state’s agricultural role in the country, California produces 21 percent of the nation’s milk supply, 23 percent of its cheese and 92 percent of all grapes. The state also produces half of all domestically-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables, including some products, such as almonds, walnuts, artichokes, persimmons and pomegranates, of which 99 percent are grown in California.
Overall, about 3 percent of employment in the state is directly or indirectly related to agriculture.
Dozens of California farmers whose century-old claims to rivers and streams have assured them a nearly endless water supply, at least up until now, are offering to give up a quarter of their water in exchange for a guarantee that the drought-plagued state won’t come clamoring for a whole lot more. … State officials have not yet acted on the offer.
The drought has worked a miracle in the Owens Valley, as environmental activists and ranchers have buried decades of enmity to forge a plan to save ranch land — at the expense of hard-fought environmental protections.
A plan under consideration by the state will allow farmers who claim senior riparian rights to continue taking water later this summer, if they will agree now to leave 25 percent of their land barren, or to conserve 25 percent of the water they would normally use.
Saying that pollinators – think bees and butterflies – are vital to the nation’s food supply, the White House on Tuesday unveiled a strategy that aims to mitigate devastating losses in colonies in the U.S.
Farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta who have California’s oldest water rights are proposing to voluntarily cut their use by 25 percent to avoid the possibility of even harsher restrictions by the state later this summer as the record drought continues.
Despite the drought, the number of workers employed in California’s agricultural industry rose to its highest level in at least 24 years, as many farmers shifted toward labor-intensive, permanent crops, according to the latest state and federal statistics.
Information is the heart of California’s $US 2 trillion economy. … In nearly every sector, data — and the strategic decisions it enables — are a principal source of the Golden State’s economic triumph. But in agriculture, the bedrock water-consuming industry in a state buffeted by a deep four-year drought, water data are not collected with anywhere near the same rigor and dedication.
At the bottom of California’s Central Valley bathtub, Delta farmers always have drawn from the rivers and sloughs with confidence. … But now, in the fourth year of this drought, state regulators may cut off even riparian water users later this summer.
The Bureau of Reclamation and water users in California’s Central Valley have forged an agreement that will bring some much-needed Central Valley Project water supplies to farmers in the CVP’s Friant Division this summer. … Weeks of negotiations involving nearly all Friant Division contractors, the Exchange Contractors, Westlands Water District, Reclamation and other agencies paid off in an agreement reached May 7.
For the first time in nearly a century, farmers who normally receive canal water from the Fresno Irrigation District will get no regular deliveries this year. … Meanwhile, several other Valley water agencies and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced a deal Thursday that could provide up to 60,000 acre-feet of water to east-side growers.
In a wide field along a narrow two-lane road in the town of El Centro, the grass is tall and rusty brown. … It’s a lush wheat field, in tiptop health, today getting harvested by a guy riding one of those big green combines.
The San Joaquin Valley’s tainted air might be getting an extra dose of soot and ozone-forming gases this spring as growers wrestle with the woody waste from dead citrus orchards. … It’s more drought expense and woe in this broad farm belt where thousands of growers for the second straight year have lost river irrigation water for an area six times the footprint of Los Angeles.
Many of us could use a refresher course in California geography as we debate how to manage the drought and prepare for an uncertain water future. For starters, calling the hardest-hit farm region the Central Valley is much too simplistic.
State Water Resources Control Board officials said Monday that they expect to issue “curtailment orders” soon to the state’s most senior water rights holders, effectively shutting off the flow of river water to some of the major agricultural districts in California.
There was very little good news at Tuesday’s meeting of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture. … The board gathered at the Fresno Fairgrounds to hear from the public about how the state’s historic drought is affecting them.
The farm is taking part in a research project using worms to consume nitrogen in manure-tainted water that irrigates its feed crops. The goal, in part, is to reduce the risk of pollution. But the process also has a byproduct – an especially rich fertilizer that can be sold to home gardeners and other users.
The Pacific Institute has released a new report summing up what’s known about the amounts of water used for agriculture in California, and one of the takeaways is that the state lacks comprehensive and up-to-date information.
From their homes along Horseshoe Road east of Oakdale, residents can’t help but notice the prominent mast of a well-drilling rig atop the hill to the west. … Like so many other wells in the area, it will pump water from deep in the ground to feed orchards.
For some, the practice of dry farming — where natural rainfall, not irrigation, is used exclusively to produce a crop — is rooted in history. Yet, it is relevant to modern times as Napa wines that won the historic 1976 Paris tastings were all dry farmed.
In the wake of zero water allocations again this year, Ronald D. Jacobsma has stepped down as general manager of the Friant Water Authority, representing 13 water districts on the San Joaquin Valley’s east side. Jacobsma’s separation from the authority follows the departure of eight water districts over differences with the board of directors.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell reversed the government’s proposed federal protection for a type of sage grouse specific to California and Nevada on Tuesday, and said it shows it’s still possible to head off a bigger, looming listing decision for the greater sage grouse across 11 western states.
Farmers enjoying cheap water prices will pay more money for less water this year, the Oakdale Irrigation District board decided Tuesday. For the first time in 105 years, OID will restrict water amounts, and as they did last year, farmers will pay a $6.10-per-acre drought surcharge.
Federal and state agencies along with Sacramento River Settlement Contractors (SRSCs) agreed this week on an integrated framework of actions for Central Valley Project/State Water Project operations for mid-April through November. The actions will flexibly manage and operate the system to serve multiple beneficial purposes that include water for cities and rural communities, farms, fish and wildlife and their habitats in the Sacramento Valley. The suite of actions will also help provide water for areas of the state that are in dire need of additional water supplies.
As California enters its fourth year of drought and imposes the first mandatory statewide water cutbacks on cities and towns, the $6.5 billion almond crop is helping drive a sharp debate about water use, agricultural interests and how both affect the state’s giant economy.
Farmers along the Sacramento River who have long-time water rights will receive 75 percent of their historic supply again this year. Last year cutbacks occurred as well for these growers, known as Sacramento River settlement contractors.
Representatives of the state’s almond farmers defended the decision to expand California’s orchards, saying growers with adequate water supplies are making rational economic decisions based on the price they can get for their crop.
This issue looks at remote sensing applications and how satellite information enables analysts to get a better understanding of snowpack, how much water a plant actually uses, groundwater levels, levee stability and more.
There’s a lot at stake, including your very own nuts, fruit and vegetables, because most of the water that’s up for grabs in California goes to farmers. This year, some farmers will get water, and others will not, simply based on when their land was first irrigated. Consider, for instance, the case of Cannon Michael.
The 32-year-old farmer in the barber’s chair said his well wouldn’t make it to summer. … It was late afternoon at the tail end of what should have been the rainy season in the fourth year of the California drought.
As California moves into the fourth year of a withering drought and Gov. Jerry Brown announces mandatory water use restrictions on the state’s 39 million residents, attention has focused on its thirsty agricultural industry and, in particular, rapidly expanding almond orchards.
Almost every number used to analyze California’s drought can be debated, but this can be safely said: No level of restrictions on residential use can solve the problem. The solution lies with agriculture, which consumes more than its fair share.
California’s drought problems could have far-reaching impacts. A disproportionate amount of the nation’s fruits and vegetables are grown in California, which ranks as the top produce in a number of popular foods.
It was that kind of week in south San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, where the struggle over scarce water intensified, with two agricultural water districts going so far as to briefly defy a federal order to provide flows for fish.
As California continues reeling from the drought, Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday headed into the farmlands north of Sacramento, where concerns about the state’s parched spell are mounting after a dry winter.
Modern irrigation — aided by the Hoover Dam and the All-American Canal — transformed the Imperial Valley from a hostile desert into an agricultural marvel: a testament to generations of farmers and their use of cheap and plentiful water.
Even Northern California farmers with some of the best water rights in the state will see their water allocations decreased by 50 percent this year. Districts along the Feather River got the news Wednesday from the Department of Water Resources.
The Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts defied the federal government Wednesday by diverting some Stanislaus River water to a local reservoir, where it might help thirsty crops, rather than releasing it down the river to benefit fish.
In the week after issuing an unprecedented statewide water use reduction order, Gov. Jerry Brown labored to defend the measure’s focus on urban water use instead of agriculture, which consumes far more water than cities and towns. … But while Brown defends agriculture’s heavy use of water, he is also considering water rights curtailments that could dramatically affect the industry.
Drought conditions expanded last month amid weather that was warmer and drier across much of the western U.S., but spring rain in the agricultural Midwest could improve conditions for farmers preparing for the corn and soybean growing season.
Even as the worst drought in decades ravages California, and its cities face mandatory cuts in water use, millions of pounds of thirsty crops like oranges, tomatoes and almonds continue to stream out of the state and onto the nation’s grocery shelves.
In another of an ongoing series of pleas by elected leaders in the Valley, representatives of farming communities in Fresno and Tulare counties gathered Thursday in Selma and challenged Gov. Jerry Brown to do more to relieve the effects of drought on farms and families in the region.
When Gov. Jerry Brown issued the first statewide water use reduction order in California history on Tuesday, he put his emphasis squarely on cities and towns…. As Californians mulled Brown’s unprecedented order, some wondered why farms were not being asked to sacrifice more.
Article after article in newspapers, magazines and online put nut growers in a bad light related to the drought. … I planted my almonds based on a contract with the federal government to deliver surface water from Northern California.
Federal agriculture officials are spending nearly $60 million this year to help combat the beetles, bollworms and other bugs that have the potential to wreak havoc on American crops, with California and Florida taking the biggest share.
Parts of the San Joaquin Valley are deflating like a tire with a slow leak as growers pull more and more water from the ground. The land subsidence is cracking irrigation canals, buckling roads and permanently depleting storage space in the vast aquifer that underlies California’s heartland.
After leaving his lucrative law practice, he [Harold Parichan] turned his attention to growing almonds on about 2,400 acres in the Central Valley. And it’s there that Parichan, 91, has a new opponent: the California bullet train authority.
Supreme Court justices will unpack many different arguments when they consider a surprisingly big California raisin case. With briefs filed in recent days, parties ranging from the state of Texas and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to a bunch of independent raisin growers from California’s San Joaquin Valley have challenged a decades-old system for managing raisin supplies.
Frank Bigelow stood at the bottom of a gully that a few years ago was stocked with largemouth bass, and, more importantly, supplied water for a herd of cattle that numbered 600 head. … This year, eight of 17 bills he has introduced deal with water in one form or another.
During its meeting Tuesday, the Butte County Board of Supervisors will consider sending a letter of concerns to the Biggs-West Gridley Water District over plans to transfer Feather River water to the San Joaquin Valley.
This winter, a large sandbar planted itself in front of the Salinas River, not an unusual phenomenon on waterways throughout the Central Coast. But as the waters rose behind it — threatening and, once heavy rains hit, eventually flooding crops — county water officials could not push the wall of sand aside.
The first step toward finding solutions to long-standing groundwater overdraft in the Pajaro Valley was to acknowledge the problem and agriculture’s contribution to it, said Miles Reiter, chairman and CEO of Driscoll’s Strawberry Associates Inc.
In the January/February issue of Western Water Magazine, Writer Gary Pitzer delves into the notion of a “sustainable” and “resilient” water supply. His article highlights what sustainability and resiliency mean to a state in the middle of a drought and with a growing population and water needs that stretch from bustling cities in the north and south to the rich agricultural fields of the Central, Imperial and Coachella valleys and Central Coast. … Read the excerpts from this issue. Purchase a printed magazine or subscribe to the digital, interactive version.
Against a rural tableau draped in a gray winter sky, a fleet of heavy, clawing earth movers rumbles back and forth across a fallow, 953-acre field that for decades produced bell peppers, carrots and alfalfa.
In this region that calls itself “The Cantaloupe Center of the World,” vast fields that once annually yielded millions of melons lie fallow. And, for some farmers, planting tomatoes and other traditional row crops may now constitute acts of courage.
In this new data-driven age, sensors are used to determine how much water a plant or tree needs or if the right amount of nutrients are being applied. Weather data is also available to give growers real-time information.
A January report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that while more farmers are selling directly to consumers, local food sales at farmers markets, farm stands and through community supported agriculture have lost some momentum.
The Great Almond Rush has brought billions to the state’s economy. But it has also raised existential questions about water rights, land use and development, the environment, ethical food policy, fracking, job creation and this fertile state’s responsibility to feed the world.
Where tens of thousands of Valencia trees once spread across the land and perfumed the air, the [Orange] county’s namesake citrus has been reduced to a collection of dwindling private groves, haphazard leftover trees and commemorative historic sites. … It’s a fate mirrored across Southern California.
State officials have begun rolling out a new environmental initiative designed to win the cooperation of marijuana growers in protecting Northern California waterways and fisheries from the kinds of degradation that commonly result from pot cultivation.
California is in the middle of a growth spurt and a corresponding crunch for water resources. Right now, California has 38 million people (roughly the equivalent of the entire country of Canada) and can expect to reach 51 million by 2050, speaker Todd Manly [director of government relations, Northern California Water Association] said during the North State Economic Forecast Conference in Oroville Thursday.
Struggling sugar beet farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are turning their crop into energy instead of sweetener. A cooperative of nine sugar beet farmers just opened a demonstration biorefinery south of Fresno.
More than three years of drought has reduced reservoir storage in California and groundwater supply. Some wine grape growers in Amador County are worried the limited resource could make this season more challenging.
A federal judge has ruled that a large industrial dairy in eastern Washington has polluted drinking water through its application, storage and management of manure, in a case that could set precedents across the nation.
Last year, as drought gripped California, [Javier] Zamora’s bills for water and the electricity that runs the pump at his well skyrocketed. But this year, he invested in a new irrigation system that’s dramatically cutting his costs and water consumption.
A proposal to change water rates for farmers would have some paying more money and some less, but would not bring more revenue to the Modesto Irrigation District or affect the massive subsidy borne by its electricity customers.
The value of California’s rice harvest in 2012 was $770 million. The almond harvest’s worth was $4.3 billion. But which is more valuable: a rice field or an almond orchard? Which is more worthy of our vital resource, water?
A staggering economic and environmental problem festering for three decades in the southern San Joaquin Valley would be addressed by a secret deal reached between the Obama administration and farmers — one that is sounding alarms for Bay Area lawmakers. … Details of the deal between Westlands and the federal Bureau of Reclamation have not been revealed to members of Congress, who would have to approve it.
Several agricultural water suppliers seeking reimbursement for state-mandated activities under the Water Conservation Act of 2009 are ineligible to receive state funding, the Commission on State Mandates has decided. The decision, released in early December, states that the suppliers are ineligible because they have the option to recover costs through the Proposition 218 process.
California’s almond orchards have been thriving over the past decade and now provide an $11 billion annual boost to the state economy. … But the growth coincides with another record development here — drought — and the extensive water needs of nut trees are posing a sharp challenge to state water policy.
While controversial, the Drakes Bay Oyster Co.’s closure was not a big surprise. After all, Congress started the count-down 40 years ago when it bought the then-Johnson Oyster Farm site along the shore of Drakes Estero in order to add the acreage to Point Reyes National Seashore’s wildland area.
Growing rice requires flooding fields, which produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The California Air Resources Board is discussing allowing growers to obtain greenhouse gas “offsets” that could then be sold on the state’s cap and trade market.
An organic farming seed planted in the latest farm bill sprouted Tuesday, broadening exemptions from conventional crop promotion fees. From almonds to watermelons, the proposed new fee exemptions cover myriad organic crops across different U.S. regions.
Tricolored blackbirds, once one of the most abundant birds in California, now depend largely on Central Valley dairy farmers for their survival. Millions of the gregarious birds used to build their nests in wetlands.
Sometimes it takes a crisis like climate change to reveal a golden opportunity. Our rice farmers in Northern California have long been exemplary stewards of their land, both in terms of providing habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife and for their ongoing efforts to work with environmental and research organizations to improve their farming practices.
The dairy industry across the San Joaquin Valley is worried about California’s new endangered species protection for the tricolored blackbird, which nests in dairy silage fields here. And dairy leaders are disappointed because they had been trying to help save the bird for years.
When a man of 91 is downright cantankerous and has been on his land longer than most everyone else has been alive, he wastes no time speaking his mind. So after his new neighbor started sinking a well to plant a water-sucking almond orchard in the middle of the worst drought he’d ever seen, James Turner hurried over.
The average American farmer is a white man in his late 50s. Or at least, that’s who’s in charge of the farm, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the number of female-run farms has tripled since the 1970s, to nearly 14 percent in 2012.
World supplies of corn, rice, soybeans, wheat, and other staple grains are forecast to reach their highest levels in 15 years, but experts say the increase will do little to reverse an upward trend in food prices.
An intriguing public debate over electricity customers subsidizing farmers has focused on what the farmers get: irrigation water at bargain basement prices. Somewhat lost in the dialogue is how much more power customers are paying – not just to benefit agriculture, but to keep afloat the Modesto Irrigation District’s entire operation.
Would your Thanksgiving table be ruined if the stuffing or side dishes did not contain almonds? … Then why are our water policymakers treating the almond farmers like they were producing a life-sustaining staple?
U.S. farmers irrigated roughly the same amount of land as they did five years ago, but they are using less water to grow the bounty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains that fill the nation’s produce aisles, livestock stomachs, and, in part, gas tanks, according to federal farm data released Thursday.
The gnarled zinfandel grapevines on Rich Czapleski’s land have borne fruit for more than 100 years, producing dark, intense wines that exemplify the special growing conditions in this coveted winemaking region. Over that time, the vines have weathered some of California’s worst droughts — including the last three years with little difficulty.
Collaboration among federal and state agencies, rice growers and industry has created federally enforceable restrictions of the pesticide thiobencarb to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead trout in California.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday allowed environmentalists to challenge the government’s renewal of 41 long-term contracts for irrigation water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, in a lawsuit seeking greater protection for the endangered delta smelt.
Clad in a blue head scarf, Gov. Jerry Brown went to the Sikh Temple of Sacramento on Sunday to honor the “peach king of California,” … Bains said his crops still have plenty of water from deep wells and the Oroville Dam and Feather and Sacramento rivers, but called the drought “a big threat. It’s not like we’re going to have water forever without rain.”
In the rice fields north of Sacramento, Tom Reese climbs into his giant red harvester, starts the engine and heads south across a flat landscape covered in gold and green stalks heavy with grains. … We revere the natural landscapes of California, mountains and coast. Too often we take for granted the simple, flat world we see in between.
The typical season for the mandarin harvest is November through January. But Bob Bonk of Snow’s Citrus Court said the last two years haven’t been typical at the family-owned and operated citrus grove in Newcastle.
Hundreds of grape growers and farmers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties are girding for the implementation of new state rules aimed at protecting imperiled fish in the Russian River by regulating stream diversions for frost protection.
Five stops, expert agricultural commentary and a wide countryside were provided to travelers on the Farm City Celebration annual bus tour Wednesday. … The stops included Weiss McNair, a nut harvesting machine manufacturer in Chico; Western Canal Water District in Nelson; Crain Orchards, a walnut processing and export business just south of Chico; the Worm Farm in Durham; and Heitkam Honey Bees in Orland.
Today, the drought will bring together the leaders of several states suffering from water scarcity. Gov. Jerry Brown and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval will open a forum on how drought is affecting agriculture with remarks in the governor’s office this morning.
Defying the state’s devastating water shortage, California farmers produced a record tomato crop. … In a year when most commodities saw declines in production, the tomato crop was 16 percent larger than last year.
Last month, I packed up my household vegetable garden in Fargo, N.D., about 2,000 miles to the northeast of California’s Central Coast. … I’d visited Salinas this summer, as an agricultural journalist among a tour group of writers and bloggers.
They’re famous for asparagus and potatoes on this central Delta island, where the Zuckerman family has farmed for four generations. But here and there, mixed in with the spuds and other crops, are vast fields of emerald-green grass that stretch into the distance until they meet the sky.
With organic food growers reporting double-digit growth in U.S. sales each year, producers are challenging a proposed California pest-management program they say enshrines a pesticide-heavy approach for decades to come, including compulsory spraying of organic crops at the state’s discretion.
The Sacramento Valley is a resting stop for millions of birds in the Pacific Flyway. Wet weather in Canada earlier this year is predicted to bring a record number of birds. And they’ll face a landscape with little water.
One modest, seasonal storm wasn’t going to reverse California’s historic drought. Yet across the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains, where livelihoods and entire towns are threatened, there was joy Saturday as rain fell and snow piled up.
Rain fell over the hay barns and pine forests in the far northeastern corner of the state, and with Tuesday’s election presaging four more years of Democratic rule in Sacramento, an air of resignation filled the Flournoy family ranch.
Faced with a continuing drought, not to mention the ravages of the olive fruit fly, this year’s olive harvest is expected to start in a week or so, earlier than usual, and be about a third smaller than last year. This will also be the first harvest to come under new stricter grading and labeling standards that took effect last month.
As one of two counties with fracking bans on the local ballot this November, San Benito County has also become the site of a heated political battle between oil companies and anti-fracking ranchers, farmers, and residents. A similar fight is going down in Santa Barbara County, where oil companies have funneled $7.6 million into a campaign against Measure P, a citizen’s ballot initiative that would ban future high-intensity petroleum operations on unincorporated county land.
There’s a plan for water transfers could move up to 511,000 acre-feet of water each year for the next 10 years from the Sacramento Valley to the San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area. … The Bureau [of Reclamation] is in the middle of writing the “Long-Term Water Transfers Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report.”
Irrigation experts from around the world think highly of a water-saving project on Ripon-area farmland. The International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, meeting last month in Gwangju, South Korea, presented its annual WatSave Technology Award to the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.
The signs appear about 200 miles north of Los Angeles, tacked onto old farm wagons parked along quiet two-lane roads and bustling Interstate 5. “Congress Created Dust Bowl.” “Stop the Politicians’ Water Crisis.” “No Water No Jobs.”
Drought is rampant these days in many parts of the American West, so consider this a pretty sweet gift: You’ve just been given the rights to some water. … Your job is to turn around and use that resource in the most valuable way possible.
The Water Education Foundation’s popular Northern California Tour features a diverse group of experts talking about groundwater, flood management, the drought, water supplies, agricultural challenges, and the latest on salmon restoration efforts. The tour also includes a houseboat cruise on Lake Shasta. … The tour travels the length of the Sacramento Valley with visits to Oroville and Shasta dams.
This summer, California’s water authority declared that wasting water — hosing a sidewalk, for example — was a crime. Next door, in Nevada, Las Vegas has paid out $200 million over the last decade for homes and businesses to pull out their lawns.
Asian Citrus Psyllids, an invasive insect, have been found in Manteca and Lodi, according to San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner Tim Pelican. … The psyllids pose no threat to humans, but they can carry the huanglongbing disease, also known as citrus greening.
The threat of rain in mid-October would typically have winemakers and vineyard managers scrambling as they look to limit any damage caused by severe rot or other moisture-related harm to the North Coast’s most valuable crop.
Sonoma County planning officials on Monday unveiled the most significant changes in nearly 40 years to the county’s underground well ordinance, which sets in place rules property owners must follow when drilling a new water well.