Monday, December 2, 2013

Another Dry Year Will Certainly Change the Valley’s Farmscape

Look, in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s rain…
Well, not yet.
Rain gauges aren't filling up so far.
While weather forecasters are forecasting a slight chance of rain around our region and snow in the Sierra Nevada, it looks like this month will start off on the relatively dry side. December to February is when historically California receives about 50 percent of its annual precipitation.
Meanwhile, the outlook for 2014 doesn’t look promising as well.
Last Wednesday, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) released the results of a computer model forecast, reporting the “Winter Outlook for Water Year 2014 Sees Mostly Dry Conditions for California.”  Forecasters say 2014 “brings the possibility of a third dry year.”
That’s not encouraging news for farmers.
DWR Director Mark Cowin
Indeed, DWR two weeks ago announced an initial 5 percent of requested water allocations sought by State Water Project contractors for 2014.
 “We hope things improve with this winter’s storms, but there is no guarantee that 2014 won't be our third consecutive dry year,” said Mark Cowin, Water Resources director. The “allocation is a stark reminder that California's fickle weather demands that we make year-round conservation a way of life.”
On the plus side, it’s still early and there’s plenty of time for the wet stuff to come down.
For Valley farmers, water availability took center stage as soon as they wrapped up the fall harvest. This issue is certainly going to have an influence on the farm landscape next year.
Another dry year will impact alfalfa acreage.
You only have to read the online newsletter AgFax West’s post-harvest survey of Central Valley farmers and pest control advisors to get the picture about what changes they expect for 2014. Here are a few responses received by AgFax:
“Availability of water will limit planted acres (in cotton),” a PCA working in Merced and Madera counties. On alfalfa, the PCA said “possible fewer acres due to reduced water supplies.”
On the westside of Fresno County, this alfalfa grower said “When looking at significantly reduced water supply, we will take four fields out and only irrigate the first and second cuttings on the remaining fields. There are higher returns on other crops.”
One alfalfa grower said: “If this winter is dry, my plan would be to get about three cuttings off the alfalfa and walk away for the season from the older fields to save water for tomatoes, cotton and permanent crops.”
Another grower added this on cotton: “Only hope for significant acreage is snow pack and lots of winter rain or there will be even less cotton than this year – will adjust based on yearly conditions!”
Let’s hope those fancy, high-tech weather models are wrong.

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