Water Regulators Operate in Silos

State Senator Cannella Says Water Regulators Operate in Silos

By Laurie Greene Editor

California State Senator Anthony Cannella, (R-Ceres), who represents District 12, the Westside of the Central San Joaquin Valley from Modesto to Coalinga, knows how growers must feel about so much fresh water from recent rain and early snowmelt flowing out to the ocean instead of being stored for future use. Cannella, who is currently serving as vice chairman of the Agriculture Committee said, “Obviously growers are out there; they have their life savings out there; they have been relying on water from the State Water Project or they have been relying on reservoirs; and the state has been taking more and more of their water due to ESA restrictions.”

“If farmers do not have surface water again this year,’ he continued, “they are going to pump from the groundwater. But state and federal officials do not see the connection that no surface water means more groundwater pumping. It would be much more sustainable if farmers could receive more surface water instead of having it flow out to the ocean.”

Cannella said, “Water regulators operate in silos. On one hand, they say groundwater has to be at an equilibrium; and, on the other hand, they say that they cannot pump much fresh water into reservoirs. They don’t combine the two; they don’t connect the two; and I think that is wrong.”

“If you are going to regulate or take away surface storage, there will be an impact on groundwater,” explained Cannella. “But the state does not operate that way, and that is why we are having the problem we are having,” he said.

“My Job Depends on Ag” is Growing

Steve Malanca on the Future of “My Job Depends on Ag”

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

Three months ago, a grassroots effort to spread the word of agriculturalists began in the form of the movement, My Job Depends on Ag. The organization held its first meeting this week at Harris Ranch in Coalinga with 50 members in attendance to discuss the future of the group.

Steve Malanca, co-founder of the movement, said his hope for the organization is to educate the consumer, as well as to unite the ag community. Malanca also sells agriculture equipment for AGCO.

“We really feel that educating the non-ag community about who we are and where our food comes from is very important,” Malanca said.

“We want to unite the ag community so that we all are represented together,” Malanca continued. “We want to encompass everybody—the organic farmer, the commercial farmer, the trucking company, the logging industry. But everybody that’s involved in ag we want them to know that we all have a stake in this, and if we can all come together and be as one, I think that we’ll be able to hopefully give a message to the general public that we have a need for people knowing where their food comes from.”

Malanca hopes to host a My Job Depends on Ag Festival in the future. The group is considering Los Banos as a location for the potential festival due to its accessibility with an airport, several hotels and a nearby fairgrounds for the event.

“We’re considering a festival in order to bring everybody together,” Malanca said, “and we’re considering combining the Salinas Valley growers with the San Joaquin Valley growers in a town for example like Los Banos.”

“We want to, perhaps, have ag tours around the city of Los Banos,” Malanca suggested, “and have buses available for people who aren’t familiar with ag to take a ride and come see what kind of crops are grown and how they’re done.”

“An historical pavilion would be nice to show people the history of agriculture, and California—not just central California, but the entire state,” Malanca stated, “and we’d bring in some big time entertainment and food, of course. And we’d have a way for everybody to be proud of what they do and to show people where their food comes from.”

Malanca said he hoped the group’s decal could be an icon that symbolized the importance of agriculture.

“We’re grateful for the response we’ve had with our decals,” Malanca said. “We hope that little decal being shown on people’s vehicles and equipment will be a sign or a vision for people to see where they’re food comes from and know that we are a huge community and that we are good people. Ag is good, and ag is where you’re food comes from.”

The Water Chase for Harris Farms Onions

Harris Farms Onions Diversify to Chase Water

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Associate Editor, CaliforniaAgToday.com

Some farmers facing very little or zero water deliveries in the Central Valley are investing in crops in areas where water is more plentiful. Steve Hamm, controller for Harris Farms near Coalinga in Fresno County, noted that Harris Ranch has taken this bold move and is now reaping benefits from farming in Kern County.

Hamm told California Ag Today, “We own a couple thousand acres of land in a little town called Mettler, near the intersection of 99 and I-5,” at the foot of a grade known as ‘The Grapevine’ that starts at the mouth of Grapevine Canyon and ascends the canyon to the Tejon Pass in the Tehachapi Mountains. “It is more of a gas stop; you’ve probably breezed by it many times heading to Los Angeles.”

“Despite the name ‘Grapevine Region,’ we do not grow any grapes. We grow crops similar to what we grow on the Westside, starting with almond trees, of course. These days, especially given over-priced water and an increase in fallowed ground, record almond prices is really the only thing keeping us afloat. Like almonds, we also grow melons, carrots, onions, tomatoes and lettuce down there,” Hamm noted.

“Although we duplicate a number of crops, farming in Mettler is unique. I’ll use onions as an example. We have an onion processing plant down there to process the onions as soon as they come in from the field, so they don’t  sit around for month–as in a bin. With onions, we are looking to getting through a certain tonnage per year and this is our window,” said Hamm.

“If we took onions from everybody on the Westside in Fresno County or northward,” Hamm explained, “processing them would not work efficiently. Harvest deliveries would arrive at the processing plant at the same time, resulting in a backup, and we would have to push the crop through the plant as fast as possible.”

Hamm says this inefficiency in delivering a large volume to market at one time would greatly impact prices. “What you are really looking for is a location at which you can harvest a crop when the market reaches its highest price. So, Kern County, especially south Kern County, right at the Grapevine but not quite at the granite mountain, still has good-enough soil to grow row crops like you do here in Fresno County. But Mettler is at a higher elevation, by hundreds of feet, and is also further south in latitude. Surprisingly, this combination places the Grapevine onion harvest first. So we harvest it down there, transport it up here to our packing shed, and that keeps us plenty busy for weeks until the local Fresno harvest, and that’s a huge volume.”

“These days the wholesale produce folks are looking for a year-round supply,” he continued. When they talk with an onion salesperson, they want a twelve-month supply. So our onion salesman looks into Mexico to start off the season, chasing it northward and all around California, wherever it becomes available. At the end of the season, we end up in Washington, even Canada. And when it gets too cold up there, we return to Baja Mexico. We may or may not pack each harvest, but when we geographically spread our supply, our market timing improves.”

In explaining the water chase for Harris Farms onions, Hamm said, “Kern County also has a very different water situation than the Westside of Fresno County, which is supplied by the Westlands Water District, a Federal system that delivered a zero percent water allocation last year. Our water systems in Kern County are Arvin-Edison and Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa, part of the state program, which delivered about a fifteen percent water allocation this year and five percent last year. And, unlike the Westside where the water district owns no wells, these Kern County districts have wells.”

“In addition,” he said, “we are actually part of a water bank in Kern, plus we have our own private wells, like most farmers there. But, here on the Westside, we have only two water sources; groundwater, of course, and our canal allocation that has been zero. So our Westside land is down to a single water source, not including free market trade. We are doing as much as we can in Fresno County on wells, but they have a maximum capacity–you can only run them 24 hours a day.”

“Even without buying water on the open market, we gain a lot more flexibility by diversifying with farms in Kern County that have these four water sources,” Hamm concluded.

 

Sources: California Ag Today interview with Steve Hamm; Harris Farms website; Wikipedia, “The Grapevine”

Featured Image: UCANR