Drought reports prompt farm groups to push state for solutions

Tim Hearden
New reports from Fresno County and the University of California paint a bleak picture of the future of agriculture in the Central Valley, prompting farm groups to call for more solutions from state leaders.

SACRAMENTO — As two reports paint a bleak picture of the future of agriculture in California’s Central Valley, farm groups are calling for more solutions from state leaders.

Fresno County’s latest crop report revealed that production in the nation’s No. 1 agricultural county totaled about $6.44 billion last year, a more than 2 percent decrease from 2012’s $6.58 billion and down about 6.5 percent from 2011’s $6.88 billion record year.

The report shows drought conditions were beginning to stifle production even before this year’s water shutoffs to many parts of the San Joaquin Valley, and industry leaders say they expect Fresno County’s numbers to drop precipitously by next year’s report.

“With the drought and the fallowed acres, especially the row crop numbers, I think they are going to be significantly impacted in Fresno County,” said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

Fresno County Farm Bureau chief executive officer Ryan Jacobsen agrees.

“We’re being impacted on both the east and west sides,” Jacobsen said. “There’s major impacts that we’re likely to see.

“It’s hard to say where the numbers are going to end up because we don’t know what the market value of crops is going to be,” he said. “When you look at production from year to year, absolutely we assume we’re going to see production values go down.”

Fresno’s report was presented to county supervisors on July 15, the same day the University of California-Davis’ Center for Watershed Sciences issued its more detailed narrative on the drought’s impact on the state’s agricultural economy.

The UC’s report predicts that farmers this year will leave nearly 430,000 acres unplanted, costing the state’s economy $2.2 billion and more than 17,000 jobs. Researchers also warn that farmers’ groundwater supplies could be depleted next year if they’re not replenished by rain and snow this winter.

State officials have said the study, which was requested by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, isn’t likely to change water allocations for agriculture. Allocations are based on such factors as water runoff and weather models, state Department of Water Resources spokeswoman Nancy Vogel said in May.

However, Blakely complains the UC report was devoid of any solutions to help farmers.

“I thought it should have gone farther in addressing what needs to be done,” he said. “I thought it was basically an exercise in putting it through an economic model, which is fine, but I didn’t see that it presented a lot going forward. I don’t know if it told us anything we didn’t know.”

The CCM has asserted that as many as 50,000 citrus acres alone could be taken out of production this year as no federal water is being delivered to California’s prime citrus region in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties. Citrus growers have been bulldozing orchards at an accelerated rate because of a lack of water, Blakely said.

Fresno County’s roughly 27,000 acres of oranges and 9,000 acres of other citrus fruit represent a little more than 10 percent of the state total based on harvested acres, he said. According to the crop report from county agricultural commissioner Les Wright, oranges in the county generated $149 million in value last year, up from $126.2 million in 2012.

For the first time, almonds supplanted grapes as Fresno County’s No. 1 crop in 2013, valued at $1.109 billion to grapes’ $1.037 billion.

“What’s so frustrating for many of us is crop prices … across the board are up, so the opportunity for farmers and ranchers to take advantage of that is at an all-time high,” Jacobsen said. “Unfortunately our limiting factor boils down to water.”

Jacobsen argues that politics have led to the water shutoffs that have cost the region jobs and economic activity.

“The No. 1 thing that needs to take place is conveyance in the (Sacramento-San Joaquin River) Delta,” he said. “We’ve lost millions of acre-feet in the last two years of water that should have been caught in the Delta that was not.”

Online

UC-Davis Center for Watershed Sciences: https://watershed.ucdavis.edu

California Citrus Mutual: http://www.cacitrusmutual.com

Fresno County Farm Bureau: http://www.fcfb.org



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