Its Natural Resources Conservation Service is making the funds available to growers and ranchers who apply by March 3 through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
“The conservation resources are basically a grant to assist producers,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a Feb. 4 conference call with reporters. “It’ll be focused on improving irrigation efficiency, providing resources to stabilize fallow ground that can’t be farmed and to assist with watering facilities and grazing distribution.”
Cropland with a reduced water allocation of at least 85% will get the highest priority. More information is available online or at local NRCS centers.
“The changing climate has provided for a more intense and longer period of severe drought with precipitation at all time lows in California impacting both agriculture and forestry,” Vilsack said.
Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said a county by county tally of fallowed land is still ongoing, but he expects to see between 200,000 to 300,000 acres fallowed on the Westside of Fresno County this year because of the drought.
“Those acres produce melons, tomatoes and all sort of vegetables and fruits,” Costa said. “And we have permanent crops in orchards and vineyards.”
“It’s still unclear in terms of direct impact on production,” Vilsack said. “But with scarce water resources we’re probably not going to be able to maximize production. The same thing could also frankly be said of a failure to have a stable work force; a lot of producers in California are confronted with that challenge as well.
“Its impact on food prices requires an understanding that farmers only get 15 cents of every food dollar. Even when there is a serious drought like this one, it doesn’t necessarily translate into significantly higher increased costs of food at the grocery store. There may be less, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that what’s in the grocery store is going to be much more expensive.”
Soil erosion is among the concerns that prompted the funding, said Karen Ross, California Department of Food and Agriculture secretary.