Drought weighs on grower-shippers

03/03/2014 03:06:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

The worsening drought is top of mind for many involved in the California spring vegetable deal.

Although vegetable grower-shippers along the Pacific Coast and the east side of the San Joaquin Valley may be in a slightly better water situation than their counterparts on the valley’s west side, they nonetheless have drought on their minds.

“We don’t have the uncertainty of the allocations and knowing we’re not going to get any (water), but we’re still very concerned,” said Jess Brown, executive director of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, Watsonville, Calif.

He was referring to surface water deliveries from state and federal water projects upon which growers in the Central Valley rely.

Both the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project have told growers they plan to make no contract deliveries this year because of meager snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

Citing the driest January on record and mountain snowpack of less than 20%, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency in January, setting in motion government-funded water conservation programs and other drought-relief efforts.

Historically, Westside growers relied on state and federal deliveries as their primary irrigation source. But since the 1997-2003 drought and subsequent environmental legislation that reduced surface deliveries, many have installed wells.

Mark Adamak, Tanimura & Antle director of mixed lettuces and romaine, said the Salinas, Calif.-based grower-shipper cut back on rotational crops this year to save water for its core business.

“I don’t believe (the drought) will affect our core business,” he said.

The operation, which has fields near Panoche Hills and Harris Ranch, installed drip irrigation several years ago and uses it for all of its lettuce.

In addition, T&A plans to bring a couple of deep wells online this spring to provide the crops additional water.

Most growers along the coast have never received surface deliveries and instead have relied on wells and groundwater. However, pumping too much groundwater can cause saltwater intrusion, Jess Brown said.

Over the years, many vegetable growers in his county have converted from flood to the more efficient drip irrigation. In addition, they’ve adopted other water-saving technologies.

Dick Peixoto, owner of Lakeside organic Gardens, Watsonville, for example, has installed drip and adopted other conservation measures that have cut water use by about 50% over the years.


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