Water Diversion Plan for Fish, Part 2

Grober: It Won’t Help to Vilify People

Part 2 of 2-part Series 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

California Ag Today conducted an extensive interview with Les Grober, assistant deputy director, State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB, Water Board) Division of Water Rights. We published Part 1, “Water Board’s Point of View on Increasing San Joaquin River Flows,” on November 28, 2016.

Water Board’s Point of View on Increasing San Joaquin River Flows, Part 1

Grober explained the Water Board’s water diversion plan to adjust the flow objectives on the San Joaquin River to protect fish and wildlife. The plan, specifically, is to divert 40 percent of water flows from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers that flow into the lower San Joaquin River. 

California Ag Today: We asked Mr. Grober to explain how the Federal Water users on the Westside of Fresno and Kings Counties were granted a mere 5 percent allocation this year, and why many did not receive their full 5 percent.

Grober: The 5 percent allocation is due to the junior water rights of those growers and to the interconnections of so many things — priority of right, hydrologic conditions, and minimal protections or fish and wildlife. Anyone who thinks it’s all due to fish is simplifying a very complex situation. 

California Ag Today: Regarding the water hearings that are scheduled over the next few months, is the Water Board trying to give information to farmers and others would be affected by the decreased water should the Water Board’s proposal go through?

Grober: The ultimate goal is to make people even more prepared to provide comments to the Board at the scheduled hearings. It’s part of a public process where, if we did not get our economic figures right, we want [accurate] information from the stakeholder to make it right.

We thought we did a good job in an economic analysis on how we thought the proposed taking of 40 percent water would affect the communities and farmers. We clearly heard from many people who thought we did not do a good job, and my response is: Good, show us why, make a proposal and take it to the Water Board hearings, and then we can adjust it.

California Ag today: The Water Board has a 3,100-page report all about saving the salmon.

Grober: The reason we have a big report is because we are making a proposal and we’ve shown our work. Although it is work for people to look at it and review it, we have tried to make it easy so that people can see if we have made mistakes, if there are things that are left out or if we have made an incorrect assumption. That’s why we’ve shared it with everybody and here’s your opportunity for setting us straight.

It won’t help to vilify different people who are making good use of the water or to vilify or disparage the implementation of our laws and what we are required to do. We have a great process I think, as hard as it is, a public process where we can work these things out in the open, just to use it and deal with each other professionally.  
-Les Grober, assistant deputy director, State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB, Water Board) Division of Water Rights

 

California Ag Today: We are sure you are getting a lot of information from farmers and city leaders about this not being a good use of the water.

Grober: These problems are not so simple that they could be reduced to a sound bite. I think we would have solved the salmon problems by now, but because we are in the drought situation, we are dealing with a precious resource, which is water. Everybody wants the water but there’s not enough to do all the things we would like to do with it. 

California Ag Today: But there are many people in California who feel that more water for fish instead of farmers is reprehensible.

Citrus Tree devastated by drought.
Citrus Tree devastated by drought.

Grober: It won’t help to vilify different people who are making good use of the water or to vilify or disparage the implementation of our laws and what we are required to do. We have a great process I think, as hard as it is, a public process where we can work these things out in the open, just to use it and deal with each other professionally. 

California Ag Today: But we’ve heard from experts that have been studying this, that the increased flows have not really helped these species. Do you have proof that they have?

Grober: It’s hard to show proof one way or the other because recently we have not increased flows to see what effect it would have. That seems to be a notion that is out there, that we have somehow done something to increase flows in recent years, and that’s simply not the case.

If anything, flows have gone down. And in the recent drought years, as I said, even the minimal flows that were required were adjusted downward. You would have to show me that evidence that flows have gone up and there has been no response to those higher flows. I do not believe that there is any.

California Ag Today: So, the Water Board wants 40 percent of unimpaired flows?

Grober: When we say the requirement is 30 percent to 50 percent of unimpaired flows, it is 30 percent to 50 percent of that amount, which means just the opposite. It means that 50 to 70 percent of [flows] for February through June would be available for consumptive use.

That is frequently misunderstood and turned around. That is still from February through June, so it means more than 50 to 70 percent since other times of the year this water is available for consumptive use.

California Ag Today: Is the Water Board looking at the fact that if the water is needed for the species, it is going to force these growers to use more groundwater? That is a direction in which we do not want to go, especially in a region that has not yet had critical overdrafts. How does the Water Board look at that domino effect forced on these growers in order to survive, stay in business and produce the food in this major Ag production region?

Grober: Implementing that 30 to 50 percent of unimpaired flows would mean less surface water available for diversion. So our analysis of the potential environmental effects and overall effects of the program, based on recent drought information and other information, shows we would see increased groundwater pumping.

California Ag Today: Is the increased pumping weighted at all in the proposal, because overdraft groundwater pumping is not sustainable?

Grober: By our analysis, the area is already in overdraft.

California Ag Today: What? Why would there be overdraft pumping in an area that has great irrigation districts such as Modesto and Oakdale Irrigation Districts delivering surface water? We did not think growers in those districts would be overdrafting.

Grober: Sure. Within those irrigation districts themselves, they are not overdrafting. That’s why the analysis we do goes into that level of detail. The irrigation districts that already have a source of surface water actually apply much more water than they need just for the crop, so they are recharging groundwater within those districts, and even with this proposal, would continue to recharge groundwater. It is all those areas outside of those districts that don’t have access to surface water that are pumping groundwater.

California Ag Today: There is a lot more pumping of groundwater on the east side near the foothills.

Grober: Based on the information that we have, the total area — not just the districts that have access to surface water — but the total area, is already overdrafting groundwater. And there are many areas on the east side of these districts now, up into areas that were previously not irrigated, converting now to orchard crops. So with the information we have, there are large areas of production using water from the basin. The entire area is to some extent pumping more groundwater than there is recharge.

California Ag Today: We’ve been concern about this.

Grober: That’s why the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is going to be good, because the local areas are going to have to get on top of that information and on top of the management.

Tulare County Ag is Down But Strong

Tulare County Annual Crop Report is Down But Still Strong

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

The numbers are in for the 2015 Tulare County Annual Crop and Livestock Report.  Marilyn Kinoshita, Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer of Tulare County, reported, “We had an overall value of $6.9 billion, compared to last year, which was more than $8 billion,” which means the County led the nation in total crop value and dairy production, despite a decrease of nearly 14% in one year.

Tulare County’s top ten crops [crop value] in 2015 were:

  1. Milk
  2. Cattle & Calves
  3. Oranges- Navels & Valencias
  4. Grapes
  5. Almonds Meats & Hulls
  6. Tangerines – Fresh
  7. Corn – Grain & Silage
  8. Silage – Small Grain
  9. Pistachio Nuts
  10. Walnuts

Kinoshita explained, “Dairy is our number one industry here. Our milk production was off a little bit. We have fewer dairies in business now because of the low milk prices. Anytime your fresh market milk is off, that’s going to affect our overall value. A good 2/3 of that billion-dollar decrease came from the dairy industry. The price was low the entire year, as opposed to the year before.”

Marilyn Kinoshita, agricultural commissioner, Tulare County
Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County Ag Commissioner

 

Thus far, the reported 2015 county crop reports in the Central Valley are down this year. “Fresno County, for instance, was down 6.5% off its record $7 billion in 2014,” Kinoshita said.

 

“It has a lot to do with low water deliveries in Fresno and Tulare Counties,” she continued. “The smaller the water deliveries, the more efficient those growers have to be with that water. Anytime you’re pumping water out of the ground, it’s terribly expensive,” she noted.

 

“Some of our growers have had to decide, ‘All right, I’ve got this much water; I’m going to keep those blocks alive and I’m going to push an older block that isn’t producing as well.’ The returns aren’t as good as some of the newer plantings,” said Kinoshita.

 

Despite all of that, Kinoshita said agriculture does sit at the head of the table in Tulare County. “Yes, and we need a successful Ag industry to thrive here,” she said.

 

To view a video of the interview, click HERE.

 

Tricia Stever Blattler, executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau, noted the crop report demonstrates the strength of the agricultural industry. “I think every year when this crop report comes out, it is always a testament to the resiliency of this industry. This industry takes hard knocks, gets knocked down, then steps right back up to the plate and keeps swinging,” Blattler said. “The agricultural sector has a lot of outside challenges that impact the number that we see reported every year.”

 

Tricia Stever Blattler
Tricia Stever Blattler, executive director , Tulare County Farm Bureau

Blattler acknowledged the crop value numbers do not reflect net revenue for growers. “It’s always really important for our listeners to know that the crop value is a gross revenue number. When our Ag Commissioner steps to the microphone and speaks to our Board of Supervisors about this report each year, she’s reflecting values that are attributed to all of the gross revenue, and it’s not only the field value,” Blattler said.

 

“That gross number reported each year also represents our packing houses, our milk processing facilities—the creameries, the butter plants—the packing shedsall those other parts of our industry that [create] value in our industry,” said Blattler.

 

Blattler noted up or down, it’s all about the resiliency of farmers. “The industry has its years that are really blockbuster and it has its years when it falls back and we see a reduction acreage. We see reductions in surface water deliveries. The drought is still certainly playing a significant role in the numbers we’re seeing,” she explained.

 

With regard to surface water, Tulare County is in a bit of a unique position. “As an Eastside county, some of our water deliveries are not as subject to the situation that the Westside is in. In the same sense, we have some significant cutbacks that have been attributed to the San Joaquin River’s restoration and the biological opinions in the Delta—all have had an impact on the Central San Joaquin Valley [water] deliveries regardless of whether you’re Eastside or Westside.

 

“Also, as the exchange contractors either take greater deliveries of water or give up water, that also impacts the amount available to Eastside growers here in Tulare County,” she said.

 

In summary, 2015 Tulare Crop Report covers more than 120 different commodities, 45 of which have a gross value in excess of $1 million. Although individual commodities may experience difficulties from year to year, Tulare County continues to produce high quality crops that provide food and fiber to more than 90 countries worldwide.


Featured photo: Tulare County 2015 Crop Report

UC Davis Researchers Point to Government as Culprit for Fallow Land

Government Policies—not Drought—Blamed for Fallow Land

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed”¹ water deliveries.

Not even drought can be blamed for land fallowing due to lack of water deliveries to Central Valley federal water users.

 

Jason Peltier, manager of the Federal water district, San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, said, a UC Davis study released this week, “Economic Analysis of the 2016 Drought For California Agriculture,” has confirmed that failed government water policiesnot a lack of rainfall and snow pack—are responsible for the widespread water shortages and the fallowing of more than 300,000 acres of land in the federal water districts on the Westside of Fresno and Kings Counties.

San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority

“It raises this question,” Peltier asked, “When do we get honest and start talking about the regulatory drought—the man-made drought, the policy-induced drought, the policy-directed drought? We can’t even have an honest conversation about that.”

 

 

“That our opponents want to deflect and obscure that whole conversation is telling,” he continued, “because we have a tremendous story of adverse economic impact as a result of failed policies. When they tried to protect the fish, they took our water away and they made the supply unreliable. ‘Just a huge failure and they don’t want to address it; they don’t want to deal with it. The same agencies are fixated with their false confidence or their false certainty, their false precision, in terms of how to help the fish.”

 

Peltier explained the regulators failed to deliver all of the 5% allocation [née water delivery reduced by 95%] to growers california drought fallow landin the federal water districts south of the Delta. “It’s nonsense,” he reiterated, that part of the insufficient 5% was never delivered this season. “It’s avoidance of the reality that the regulators have constricted the heck out of the water projects and made it so—even in wet years, and like this year, a normal to wet year—we’ve got huge amounts of land out of production,” Peltier said, adding that almond growers in the federal water districts are not getting a late, post-harvest irrigation, which can hurt next year’s production.


¹Inscription on the James Farley Post Office in New York City

Winegrape Quality In SJV

Nat DiBuduo: Valley Winegrape Growers Must Produce Quality

By Laurie Greene, Editor

Nat DiBuduo, president of Fresno-based Allied Grape Growers believes there are good opportunities for Central San Joaquin Valley winegrape growers. “I think the San Joaquin Valley [winegrape growing industry] will survive because growers are working at producing winegrapes at a higher quality and at a higher price,” said DiBuduo.

“Overall, I think the industry is doing well,” stated DiBuduo, “and we just have to work with our San Joaquin Valley growers to produce a better quality grape. It’s like a chicken and an egg; they’ve got to be able to get paid for that better quality. And of course, growers need a solid contract with a good price to make it worthwhile,” he noted.Allied Grape Growers logo

DiBuduo noted that the Bureau of Reclamation’s initial announcement at the beginning of this month that federal water users will receive merely a five percent water allocation, fortunately, does not affect many of his grower-members. “Most Allied growers are not Westside growers; but they will be severely affected by the groundwater regulations soon to be in place.”

DiBuduo explained the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is predicted to create major issues for production agriculture. “Oh yes, we’ve got guys who have sold their property because they didn’t have enough groundwater,” he said.

Costa: Westside Water Cut Unconscionable

Jim Costa: Water Allocation is Immoral

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

Jim Costa, Congressman for the 16th Congressional District of California that covers all of Merced County and parts of Fresno and Madera Counties and includes vast areas of agricultural land, is not happy with the water situation in California. Costa stated, “To be sure, we are still in a water crisis even though we have had some good [wet] months.”

“Sadly those good months have seen too much of that water going out to sea—as opposed to getting into the San Luis Reservoir and providing water for our Valley—whether for the East side or the Westside. It is a fight that I have been engaged in for years, but most recently, I have been trying to ensure that we are pumping at the maximum levels even under the flawed biological opinions that we are having to contend with.”

Costa explained that while the pumps have been turned up over the past month, sometimes to the maximum level, “the San Luis Reservoir is only 51% full, and now we are are still looking at a 5 percent water allocation for Federal water users.  This has been avoidable, and it is unconscionable and immoral. Let me repeat that, it has been avoidable, and it is immoral and unconscionable that we, in fact, are in this predicament. It is largely because we have failed to take advantage of the El Niño months of December and January.”

Assessing our winter water losses,Costa remarked, “Since January 1st, we estimate that we have lost over 440,000 acre-feet of water. This freshwater440,000 acre-feetwould make a big difference to our Valley, which has been water-starved from a combination of 4 years of drought, plus the flawed biological operations of the Federal and State Water Projects. So, we have to fix this broken water system, bottom line.”

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.

Fresno Ag Awards

Joe Del Bosque and Earl Hall Receive Ag Awards in Fresno

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

At the Fresno Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Ag Awards Luncheon on Oct. 28,  Westside farmer Joe Del Bosque and businessperson Earl Hall, owner of Hall Management Corp., a labor contracting company, received awards for their commitment to agriculture.

Honored as the Chamber’s 2015 Agriculturalist of the Year, Del Bosque, owner of Del Bosque Farms in Firebaugh, said, “It’s an honor to be here, and I’m so surprised to see not only my family here, but a lot of my friends as well as community leaders that I know. I’m just so pleased to have them attending and supporting. It really is an honor and I’m humbled. I mean, I saw the list of the folks who have been given this award; they’re some of the big leaders that I always look up to.”

Earl Hall
Earl Hall, owner of Hall Management Corp.

Del Bosque was honored for his open farm policy of allowing bloggers and city folks to visit his operation and observe what farming is all about. He also hosted President Obama on an historic visit on Feb. 14 2014. Del Bosque farms almonds, melons, cherries and asparagus and relies on his farm employees to get the crops harvested. He also is a governor-appointed member of the California Water Commission, a public forum to discuss water issues, advise the Department of Water Resources (DWR) on water policy and decides what storage projects to build with 2014 Water Bond funding.

Hall’s Kerman-based company, Hall Management Corp, received the Baker Peterson Franklin’s Ag Business Award. Hall said his company manages the farm production and all of the labor—all of whom work directly for his company—for several different agricultural companies across 500 thousand acres. “We do business in 26 counties around the state,” said Hall. “I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and it’s quite an honor that our company has been recognized today as the ag business company of the year. I have to give all the credit to my people.

____________________

Founded in 1917, Baker Peterson Franklin, CPA, LLP is a full-service, locally-owned accounting and consulting firm in Fresno, California with a 45+ person staff.

With a membership of more than 1,400 businesses and organizations, the Fresno Chamber of Commerce promotes and supports the success of the regional business community through effective advocacy, education and relationship building.

Mario Santoyo: Hold Environmental Water Use Accountable!

Mario Santoyo: Hold Environmental Water Use Accountable!

 

By Laurie Greene, California Ag Today Editor

 

California Ag Today met with Mario Santoyo, executive director for the California Latino Water Coalition at the recent Clovis drought forum organized by Assemblymember Jim Patterson to talk about how serious the current drought situation has become.

We are definitely in one of the worst drought situations that has happened in recent times. But the fact is, the 1977 drought was actually worse than where we are now. But this year, we’re at a zero water allocation and in ’77 we were at 25% for both the Eastside and Westside. So what’s the difference? Well, it boils down to the differences that are now dedicating a whole bunch of water to environment use, but the environment is not being held accountable for its usage,” Santoyo said.

“Cities and agriculture have had to be very accountable for their water usage and efficiency. It’s not the same for the environment, and so I’m hoping people will understand this discrepancy when we push to reallocate some of the water back to the cities and farms. We must hold environmental water use accountable!”

Santoyo noted the critical importance of building new water storage projects. “We have been working on this for a long time, and we just can’t afford to continue losing millions and millions of acre-feet of water to the ocean during times like this, when we could use that water. We need everyone to understand they have a role in communicating to the state government that we must advance our storage capacity.

Santoyo noted, “Farmworker communities are doing a lot worse because, again, zero allocation on both the Eastside and Westside quickly translates into fallowed land, which means there are fewer jobs available. So farmworkers now find themselves in an extremely difficult position in which they either stick around and hope for the best or they leave. But once they leave, they aren’t coming back,” he said.

And, that makes life tough for the farmworkers, but it also makes it tough for the farmers because they need water and labor. You can’t do without both, and the lack of one causes problems with the other; if you don’t have water, you lose the labor, and then what do you do? So, it’s unfortunate that some changes in the way we are using water today have changed the entire landscape of agriculture here in the Central Valley.”

In terms of what we can do, Santoyo urged Californians never to give up. “There’s no reason why we all cannot write letters to our representatives and to the governor! Wake him up! Tell him, ‘Hey by the way, you’re supposed to represent us and step to the plate. Have better control over State Water Resources Control Board because they are making tons of mistakes.’ Governor Brown must start making the right decisions for the people.”

WADE: LET THE WATER FLOW!

Let The Water Flow:

Mike Wade Urges Water Board To Let Reclamation Pay Back Borrowed Water

By Laurie Greene, California Ag Today Editor

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, discussed with California Ag Today, his article for the Coalition’s Blog, entitled, “State Water Resources Control Board Could Cost California’s Agricultural Economy $4.5 Billion.”

“A number of San Joaquin Valley farmers have been working the last couple of years to set aside emergency water supplies through conservation and water purchases on the open market,” began Wade. “That water is set aside in the San Luis Reservoir and currently being borrowed, if you will, by the Bureau of Reclamation to help meet their obligations and ultimately the temperature management plan for winter run Chinook salmon.”

Wade said the Bureau’s water obligations also include provisions for summer agriculture south of the Delta, as well as refuge management for numerous listed terrestrial species like the Giant Garter Snake.

Wade estimates the loaned water is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Lending farmers include those who own land on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento Valley rice farmers who fallowed land this year to make supplies available for transfers and Friant-area farmers seeking to augment a zero water allocation for the second year in a row.

“We believe the Bureau has an obligation to pay that water back this fall, and we’re urging the State Water Resources Control Board to let that payback happen.” In his article, Wade reported that Reclamation would pay back the water from supplies stored in Lake Shasta as soon as temperature goals for winter run Chinook salmon were met.

Regarding accountability, Wade said, “I believe the Bureau intends to pay it back, but we want the public to understand what’s happening. We want transparency so we can follow this obligation and make sure this fall, when water becomes available, the Bureau follows through to pay it back. People don’t forget.”

Built and operated jointly by the Bureau of Reclamation and the State of California, the San Luis Reservoir is at 44% capacity today, according to the California Department of Water Resources’ California Data Exchange Center, but the supply is already divided and allocated. Wade explained, “The water that is currently in San Luis Reservoir under the Bureau of Reclamation’s control is almost exclusively owned by growers who have conserved it or purchased it on the open market. The remainder belongs to the State Water Project and its users. So, there is little or no federally-owned water in San Luis at this time.”

Wade said, “There are a number of factors that contribute to the 4.5 – 4.9 billion dollar projected cost for San Joaquin Valley farmers. First is the actual value of the water that farmers have already set aside. Second is the monetary obligations farmers have contracted to pay Sacramento Valley rice growers for transferred water. The third component is the actual value of potential crop and orchard losses if that water isn’t paid back and farmers lose out on their ability to keep their farms going.”

Wade urged the State Water Resources Control Board, “to facilitate this complex and unprecedented collaboration” and allow Reclamation to release compensatory water as soon as possible.

Let the water flow!

 

Sources: Interview with Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition; “State Water Resources Control Board Could Cost California’s Agricultural Economy $4.5 Billion,” by Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition; Bureau of Reclamation; California Department of Water Resources

Featured Image: San Luis Reservoir-Empty, California Farm Water Coalition

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