He said an estimated 500,000 acres of farmland sits unplanted due to water shortages, a number that could nearly double if the drought extends into 2015.
"In the long term, it could change some of the cropping patterns in California, especially for the animal industry," Parker told NBC, explaining that the economics of raising and tending livestock hinges on locally grown feed. "Without water to grow it, you really end up just having to sell off animals." Much of the state's beef cattle, for example, roam unirrigated rangelands that are parched.
Parker was also quoted in a drought story by Aljazeera America, which focused on Gov. Brown's $687 million emergency drought plan.
“I think it's a good first start,” Parker said. “But I don't think this will be the end of it.”
Gov. Brown's proposal doesn't provide funding for long-term solutions to California's water problems, but it could provide much-needed immediate assistance to many of the driest communities.
Capital Press spoke to Alan Fulton, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Tehama, Colusa, Glen and Shasta counties, about the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's dire 2014 surface water allocation plan. He said most farmers will rely on groundwater to get through the season.
"The main thing that will happen is just improving their wells and making sure they're operable,” Fulton said. “They're trying to manage through the drought with hopes of a wet year next year.”
Mother Jones featured a drought story rich with infographics outlining the surprising amount of water required to grow common food crops and the amount of water used per person per day in California communities. The article includes commentary from Jay Lund, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis, about the future of agriculture in the Golden State.
Lund said the state's current water problems mean agriculture may soon play a less important role in California's economy, as the business of growing food moves to the South and the Midwest, where water is less expensive. Production rates for thirsty crops like alfalfa and cotton have already diminished significantly in the last few years, Lund said. Between 2006 and 2010 alone, the amount of land irrigated for cotton fell by 46 percent.
The State Water Resources Control Board recommended a point-of-sale fee on agricultural commodities, a fertilizer tax, or a water-use fee from residents to offset the costs of providing clean drinking water to communities where tap water supplies have high levels of nitrate, reported Gosia Wozniacka of Associated Press. The final report to the legislature is on the SWRSC website.
The AP article was published in BakersfieldNow.com, the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications. A story by Sasha Khokha of KQED about the report said California may become one of the first states to levy a fee on nitrogen fertilizer if the Legislature adopts the board's recommendations.
The water board based its recommendations on a UC Davis study it commissioned, which was released last March and titled Addressing Nitrate in California's Drinking Water. The study said that nitrate contamination of drinking water is an issue in the Tulare Lake Basin of the San Joaquin Valley and the Salinas Valley.
UC Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station researchers are working with growers with small and large acreage on fertilizer management, irrigation efficiency and other farming practices to provide options for protecting groundwater. For more on these efforts, see Healthy crops, safe water.
Recommendation No. 12 in the SWRSC report said water boards should continue to provide technical assistance for CDFA's ongoing work with UC Cooperative Extension and other experts in establishing a nitrogen management training and certification program that recognizes the importance of water quality protection. UC Ag and Natural Resources is developing a curriculum to train certified crop advisors in nitrogen budgeting.
Because 20 percent of the Netherlands is below sea level and the country maintains an important agricultural sector, managing water has required creative approaches. Wageningen University entered into a memorandum of understanding with UC Davis to collaborate on water issues.
Both institutions and CDFA's Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP) believe there are opportunities for information sharing about technological advances that can be used to help solve water quality and efficiency challenges facing farmers and ranchers. FREP has been actively engaged in funding research to support efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers in order to limit the movement of nitrates to surface and groundwater systems. The Netherlands has experience with similar issues.
"Currently there's a real problem of safe drinking water -- and we need to fix that system, and we need to do that quickly," Parker said. "But separately from that is how do we make sure we don't continue to have this problem in the future."
The Sacramento forum was one of two being hosted by the California Institute for Water Resources and the CDFA Fertilizer Research and Education Program to explore solutions to nitrate in groundwater and the role of policy in addressing the issue.
The second forum is from 1 to 5 p.m. June 18 at the Tulare County UC Cooperative Extension office, 4437 South Laspina St., Tulare. The forum is free and open to the public. Advance registration is required. For more information, see the Managing Agricultural Nitrogen website.
- Author: Brenda Dawson
Reduced water allowances for farmers could mean layoffs and other economic impacts, says an article in the Wall Street Journal by Jim Carlton.
The article reported that some farmers have been told to expect just 30 percent of their allotments. In response to water cutbacks, many farmers must reduce planting and leave some fields fallow.
The article referenced a UC Davis study, co-authored by Richard Howitt, of 2009 water cutbacks that resulted in "285,000 acres going fallow and the loss of 9,800 agricultural jobs, for a $340 million loss in farm-related revenues."