Farmers slash planting due to drought
'It's ugly,' one grower says as tomato, melon and almond crops face hit
The Associated Press,
Farmers in the
As growers in
Computer models of the state's parched reservoirs and this year's patchy snowfall showed shortages so extreme that federal officials could slash supplies down to zero, managers at the Westlands Water District told their members in an emergency conference call.
"We thought it was important to talk to our growers so they can make important planting decisions," said Sarah Woolf, a spokeswoman for Westlands, the coalition of giant agribusinesses in the state's fertile interior.
Officials with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Water Resources plan to announce next month how much water they'll speed to farms and cities.
But farmers say that's too late, since they need to decide what to plant now, as they negotiate with banks for crop loans. Growers who are struggling to revive shriveled vines and dying trees say they're panicked at the thought of having to solely rely on well water of dubious quality.
"It's ugly," said Shawn Coburn, who grows 1,000 acres of almonds in
Coburn said he is abandoning tomatoes and will use his brackish well water to try to keep vineyards and almond orchards alive. Other growers are choosing instead to let their nut trees go dormant, which has meant less work for the beekeepers who travel to central
Farmers' decisions to fallow thousands of acres during last year's drought cost $260 million in crop losses statewide, as well as hundreds of jobs. In the tiny farm community of Mendota, in the heart of Westlands farming country, the unemployment rate is nearly 40 percent, city officials report.
Elissa Lynn, a senior meteorologist with the state water agency, said the forecast so far suggests conditions will not improve this spring.
"It's pretty clear we're heading into the third dry year in a row,"
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.