Alfalfa and Water in Imperial County

Imperial Valley Is Big on Alfalfa Production

By Brian German, Associate Editor

 

Imperial County farmers produce more than 100 different types of commodities from bamboo to artichokes, with alfalfa being one of the county’s most significant crops. Linsey Dale, executive director for the Imperial County Farm Bureau, said, “Alfalfa is grown on about 120,000 acres in Imperial County—about one quarter of our total farm acreage. It is a very important crop to the County, both for domestic use and export markets.”

Imperial County, CA
Imperial County, CA

Dale differentiated the alfalfa industry from others. “We are completely Roundup Ready-free. We grow non-GMO alfalfa here in Imperial county,” said Dale, “and it’s a very strong crop. We get about nine cuttings per year, which is very significant compared to most areas in the country,” she noted.

Because Imperial County is a desert environment, many wonder how farmers are able to grow so many different types of crops. “We have a very strong water supply. Our water comes from the Colorado River, which is moved by the Imperial Irrigation District, so we do not rely on rainfall to grow any of our crops. We rely 100 percent on our supply from the Colorado River,” Dale said.

“In terms of overall water usage,” Dale explained, “Imperial County agriculture uses an average of 5.6 acre-feet of water per acre every year. Dale added, “The Imperial Irrigation District holds the water in trust for use on our land. They have instituted what we call an Equitable Distribution Program, in which all of the water is allocated by acreage, so growers have a set amount of acre-feet of water to use on each acre.”

Imperial County Breaks Ag Production Record in 2013

The big Imperial County Region had a record year of Ag production value in 2013 of more than 2 billion dollars.

“It’s the first time that we ever hit the 2 billion dollar mark. We hit 2.158 billion dollars this year in production value,” said Linsey Dale, Executive Director of the Imperial County Farm Bureau.  Dale is based in El Centro—the county seat of Imperial County.

“We had a bump in price of cattle last year, we had a bump in the price of some of our forage crops last year, and our onion market went up a bit, broccoli market went up a bit, so there were several different crops that had an increase in price in 2013 over 2012,” said Dale.

Dale says that agriculture drives the economy in Imperial County. “We are the single biggest private employer in Imperial County, agriculture is. It has been since day one and will continue to be. If we lose agriculture here in Imperial county we lost Imperial Valley. We have thousands and thousands of jobs in farm services providers and right in production agriculture, its a tremendous impact,” said Dale.

Dale noted that Imperial County, through the Imperial Irrigation District, has some of the strongest water rights in the state. “We do have a very strong water rights. Water is a key issue for us here, we have very little rainfall, less than 2 inches per year. All of our water comes from the Colorado river, so with drought conditions here in California currently, areas are looking at us to produce that the fruits and vegetables need for the nation, especially for the winter months,” Dale said.

“We produce crops 365 days a year, some of our fields actually have 3 crop rotations. We get cuttings on alfalfa year-round, and again we have that strong water right that is necessary to be able to grow these crops,” said Dale.