Kern County growers are glad they had a mild winter, but some wish their neighbors upstream would have had more extreme weather.
Meager snowpack in the higher elevations means less water in the areas downstream as the year advances. This winter’s lack of snow already spurred the Central Valley Water Project to reduce water delivery estimates from 25% to 20% in March.
The California Department of Water Resources also is anticipating lower water levels. The department initially said water deliveries would be 40%, but that was decreased to 35% in recent weeks.
Growing regions in Kern County are spread across several water jurisdictions, said Pete Belluomini, vice president of farming for Lehr Bros. Inc., Edison, Calif.
“We deal with multiple water districts at the local, state and federal levels,” he said. “But with the timing of the potato crop in Kern County, water is not that big of a factor.”
Belluomini said a larger threat to Kern County vegetable growers is the availability of land. He is a member of the county planning commission and grew up in the area. During his lifetime Belluomini said he has seen the number of growing acres drop significantly as development projects encroach on fields.
In addition to development of land, competition for land is high among growers of different commodities. Belluomini said almond and grape production in the county is cutting into the land available for vegetable crops.
The 2011 Kern County agricultural report showed almonds as the No. 2 commodity in terms of dollar value at $727 million. Grapes (all uses) came in at No. 3 at $707 million. Carrots for fresh and processing sales were No. 5 at $419 million and potatoes for fresh and processing were No. 11 at $100 million.