Drought is forcing changes in California ag

Nov 5, 2014

California farmers are changing the way they grow avocados to deal with three distinct problems that are cutting into profits: rising fertilizer costs, spikes in water rates, and competition from avocados grown in Peru, Chile and Mexico, says University of California Cooperative Extension farm adviser Gary Bender. He was quoted in a story on Takepart.com about looming price increases for much-loved guacamole.

It takes 74 gallons of water to produce one pound of avocados — and drought-stricken California produces 95 percent of the avocados grown in the United States, wrote reporter Padma Nagappan.

Bender has been working with several farmers to experiment with high-density avocado planting, in which the trees are pruned to grow up rather than out. Growing more trees on less land will reduce water costs.

“The only way you can compete with cheaper imports and the high cost of water is if you go high-density and get more production per acre," said a San Diego area farmer.

An article in Growing Produce said the state has issued curtailments to some farmers who hold surface water rights. Because water rights law is so complex and because this is the first time many growers have had to navigate the finer details of water rights, Brenna Aegerter, University of California Cooperative Extension advisor in San Joaquin County, suggests that growers consult a professional for targeted advice.

Because of reduction in surface water availability, many growers are turning to groundwater to irrigate their crops. However, groundwater presents its own set of challenges, Aegerter says.

“There's a shallow water table but it's not good quality,” Aegerter says. “It's salty water. I think right now the main concern is what the water quality is going to be — whether it's going to be salty, and whether that will affect the crops.”

In the Westlands Water District, growers are using a combination of increased reliance on groundwater and fallowing for their water management plans, according to Tom Turini, UCCE advisor in Fresno County.

“The groundwater is lower quality than the district water — with levels of total dissolved salts and toxic ions varying from well to well — but generally higher than ideal, ” Turini says.

By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist