Rainfall Helps Water Cover Crops

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

The amount of rainfall the state has already received comes as a delight for many growers.  Joe Del Bosque, Commissioner of the California Water Commission, noted how appreciated the rainfall has been.  “It’ll help replenish the moisture in our fields. We also have some cover crops growing that need rain and some dry land wheat that we’re growing that needs some rain,” Del Bosque said.

Del Bosque is also the president and CEO of Empresas Del Bosque Incorporated, a diversified farming operation on the west side of Fresno County in Firebaugh.  He talked about a cover crop he’s got going for their organic melons. “We plant it in the wintertime. We don’t irrigate it because we can’t afford to buy water for a cover crop. We plant it in the wintertime so the rains will provide for it, then we mulch it in the spring and then plant our melons,” Del Bosque said.

That cover crop also helps to build tilth and adds important organic matter to the soils, really helping those organic melons grow.  The success of that cover crop depends largely on the amount of rain, which is much better this year than many years prior.  “It’s good for the trees to get wet, to get cold and go into dormancy. There have been years where we didn’t get hardly any rain in January. We couldn’t put on our dormant sprays because the bark was dry. This year we should be able to do that,” Del Bosque said.

It cab be a bit of gamble planting the cover crop, but it seems to have paid off for Del Bosque this year.  “Absolutely, yeah, if we don’t get rain, we don’t get a crop because we can’t afford to buy $1,000 water for our cover crop. We have to save that for our main crop,” Del Bosque said.

Del Bosque said they have laid about a third or more of their acreage fallow because they don’t have adequate water to grow anything on it; but idling farmland has its own set of consequences: “We found that laying land idle because of a lack of water for two or three years in a row starts to hurt that soil. So we decided recently to try putting in dry land grain just to keep something growing on that land and keep it alive.”

At the Empresas Del Bosque farm, they grow cantaloupes, almonds, asparagus, cherries and tomatoes on about 2,200 acres.  Del Bosque expressed his hopes that almond prices will stabilize after so much fluctuation.  “They came down a lot from 2015. They firmed up a little bit. We hope they don’t go down any further. … That’s the thing that, when we were selling almonds for $4 a pound and paying $1,000 water, we were coming out okay. Now that the almonds are $2 a pound, we can’t afford $1,000 per acre foot of water. We hope the cost of water comes down significantly this year so that it comes out all right.”