Chastened but unbowed by drought and zero federal and state allocations through the Westlands Water District, growers have begun the traditionally brief spring lettuce deal in Huron, Calif.
Opinions vary, though, on what growers have to look forward to there — or despair over — come autumn’s return trip.
“There are serious questions whether we’ll be able to farm lettuce in Huron for the fall,” said Mark McBride, salesman for Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Produce. The grower-shipper limited spring acreage there in response to water restrictions anticipated since last year.
“Every day that goes by without rain makes you wonder what the long-term consequences are,” McBride said.
On St. Patrick’s Day, the California Farm Water Coalition upped its forecast of fallow acres statewide from 500,000 to 800,000. It expects farm production losses to spike to $3.56 billion.
Hardest hit are growers in and around Fresno County, where Huron is. Santa Maria and Salinas rely on well water, not irrigation district allotments. But they’ll be in the same boat if aquifers aren’t recharged by rain.
Ocean Mist Farms got in some St. Patrick’s Day action of its own, starting Huron lettuce as the bars opened early in Boston.
“We have plenty of water available for spring,” said Art Barrientos, vice president of harvesting for the Castroville, Calif., grower-shipper.
“Everybody’s being a little cautious about fall. Some growers say they will get an allocation, but the amount is up in the air.”
It’s become common to hear decades-long California produce industry veterans say they have no experience making the kind of choices this particular drought could force on them, if it hasn’t already.
Even on the coast, in places like Santa Maria growers may by fall be compelled to do triage, sacrificing some acres and plantings to meet commitments on core items.
That would put some life in vegetable markets, which haven’t seen much lately.
Mike Hornick is a California-based staff writer for The Packer.
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