California faces one of the most severe droughts on record, and while this has yet to cripple fruit crops grown there, growers are keeping a watchful eye on the weather.
“We’ve seen periods with a lack of rainfall before,” said William Traina, chief executive officer of Traina Foods, based in Patterson, Calif.
“But during the first years of a drought, as long as you get enough water, the crops can actually be quite good.”
Droughts throughout California, however, have continued for nearly three years, and Californians statewide are taking water conservation seriously.
This can mean many things for the agricultural industry there.
On the one hand, while farmed acres have increased, agricultural water management has improved to keep pace. For example, micro-sprinklers and drip systems help efficiently irrigate fields.
“You’re seeing significant effects now because the demand for water is so much greater outside of farming,” Traina said, pointing out that California’s population growth has rapidly outstripped its water storage capabilities.
“That’s more toilets being flushed, more water used.”
Nevertheless, the overall drop in water levels is affecting production.
“Raisins depend primarily on surface water, so as record droughts reduce surface water, growers are forced to switch to pumping wells to hydrate their crops,” said Glenn Goto, manager of the Raisin Bargaining Association, Fresno, Calif.
“This has obviously affected crops.”
Traina also said decreases in available water have made things more difficult.
“The quality of the water now, whether from wells or rivers, is not as good as normal. Rivers are low, and groundwater isn’t as good either. We need good saturation to push salts (in the soil) down.”
In the coming seasons, the weather and water management will become increasingly important as several years of drought compound its effects.
“Depending on the drought, if we don’t get a lot of rainfall it’ll affect crops next year. Another dry year and we’ll see orchards go down in quality. Everything will be significantly worse,” Traina said.