California farmers rely on overseas markets to survive
“The overseas market is extremely important,” said Jesús Ramos, a Tulare County citrus farmer. “That dictates whether you can keep a crop going or not.”
Another key to keeping crops going is the state's water situation. After four years of drought, Californians are hoping the predicted El Niño rains will live up to the forecast.
Wee interviewed UC Agriculture and Natural Resources alfalfa expert Daniel Putnam, a UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist based at UC Davis. He said U.S. alfalfa hay exports to Asia and the Middle East have climbed in recent years. China's imports have risen from almost nothing in the mid-2000s to roughly 1 million metric tons forecast for 2015.
A University of Arizona water resource expert, Robert Glennon, told the reporter he was surprised to learn that 2 million tons of Western alfalfa hay, which required 100 billion gallons of water to produce, was shipped overseas.
“When I found out we were shipping bales of hay across the world, you could have knocked me over with a feather,” Glennon said.
One of the export drivers is cheap shipping to Asia in containers that might otherwise make the return trip across the Pacific Ocean unfilled. Putnam estimates shipping hay from the Imperial Valley to Tulare County can run $60 to $70 per ton. But transporting the hay from Long Beach to a port in Asia costs $25 to $45 a ton.