Drought takes toll on rangeland, honey production

Drought in California is taking its toll on rangelands while causing a drop in honey production. The USDA recently declared most of the state a disaster area because of dry conditions, and reservoirs around the state are well below their average for this time of year.
Tim Hearden

Capital Press

Published on September 10, 2013 11:05AM

People drive down onto the lake bed to launch their boats from the shore of a receding Shasta Lake in Northern California. The lake is less than half full, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Tim Hearden/Capital Press

People drive down onto the lake bed to launch their boats from the shore of a receding Shasta Lake in Northern California. The lake is less than half full, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

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PALO CEDRO, Calif. — The persistent drought that has developed in California this year is beginning to take its toll on a variety of commodities.

Honey production, for instance, is way down this summer because of drought and agricultural water curtailments that have caused wildflowers to suffer, said Shannon Wooten, a beekeeper and bee breeder here.

Wooten has been feeding his own bees carbohydrates and protein throughout the summer, he said.

“The hives (around the state) probably look pretty good, although I’m not sure what their nutrition value is going into winter,” he said. “Historically when you have a lack of nutrition in the summer, you have high losses ... This is what’s happened in the past.”

The reduced honey production comes as range and non-irrigated pasture remains in fair to very poor condition, as available water at all elevations is limited and continues to diminish, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Sacramento. Livestock supplemental feeding of hay and grain is ongoing, according to the agency.

The conditions prompted the USDA’s Farm Service Agency recently to designate 57 of California’s 58 counties as natural disaster areas. The only county not included was San Francisco.

The designation enables agricultural operators in those counties to apply for low-interest emergency loans from the agency, which will consider each application based on such factors as the extent of losses, available security and repayment ability, according to a news release. The maximum loan amount is $500,000.

For state Farm Service Agency director Val Dolcini, this year’s drought is one of the worst he’s seen.

“It sure seems to be more significant that past years,” he said. “In my travels, I’ve seen that dry conditions and inadequate water supplies are emblematic from north to south.”

After a wet start to last winter, the drought worsened throughout this year as a lack of rainfall persisted in the late winter and spring. Now California’s reservoirs are holding about 76 percent of their normal amounts for this time of year, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

In all, nine of the state’s major reservoirs are below their historic average levels, and six of them are below 50 percent of capacity. One of those is Shasta Lake, the centerpiece of the Central Valley Project, which was at 45 percent of capacity as of Sept. 9, according to the state’s water agency.

Dry conditions were blamed this year for bolstering populations of the beet leafhopper, which carries a virus that infects tomato and other plants and stunts their growth. The beet curly top virus was reported to cause as much as 50 percent damage to processing tomato fields in Fresno County.

The state Board of Food and Agriculture and the California Water Commission were holding a joint meeting on Sept. 10 to gather ideas concerning the state’s water supply. The meeting comes after Gov. Jerry Brown in May ordered streamlined approvals for water transfers to protect the state’s farms.

Even with normal rainfall and snowpack this winter, growers throughout the state are preparing for a reduced water supply next year.


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