Welcome to our Ag Blog. Our field scouts will offer a unique ground-level perspective from the field to you as an independent field scout with the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project. Our mission is to promote sustainable farming systems throughout the Central Valley and provide you with the latest information about cotton, almond and alfalfa crops. From time to time, you'll also find guest posts from our project team and other contributors. This Blog is produced by Gilbert Mohtes-Chan.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Another Dry Year Could Put a Damper on Alfalfa Acreage
Once again, Valley farmers are being
forced to make some tough decisions with the prospects that the devastating
drought will head into a fourth year in our Golden (Brown) State.
We are seeing alfalfa growers deciding
to make hay on other commodities this season, reports field scout Carlos Silva.
He says some growers plowing under older, lesser quality alfalfa fields to make
way for other crops, including cotton.
Some growers are plowing under alfalfa fields to save water.
“Alfalfa acreage may take a hit this
year,” Carlos says. Generally, growers can get about five years of production
out of an alfalfa field. But older fields can yield a lower grade of alfalfa,
which will fetch fewer dollars on the market.
It’s easy to understand the rationale.
Water is like liquid gold in farm country. It takes lots of water to irrigate
Alfalfa is California’s largest
agricultural water user because of its long growing season and vast acreage,
which has hovered around the 1 million acre range in recent years.University of California farm experts
estimate alfalfa uses anywhere from 4 million to 5.5 million acre feet of water
each season. Cotton and almonds use about half that amount annually. Remember,
an acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons – or enough to fill 65,170 five-gallon
Of course, we’ve seen this plow down before.
Some almond growers last year uprooted aging orchards as a water conservation
One cotton grower already is pre-irrigating his field.
Carlos says growers are feeling a
little more optimistic that they will have access to some water. Remember last
year at this time, they were facing the prospects of a zero water allocation.
Spring rains eventually boosted that up to 5 percent.
For 2015, the State Water Project’s
initial allocation was raised last month from 10 to 15 percent because of the
above-average December rainfall. We’ll see how that number plays out after a
dry January and mild February so far. Moreover, no one will be surprised when
state surveyors come up short during their monthly measurement of the Sierra
snowpack in the coming week. For now, everyone is hoping for that March Miracle
rain- and snowfall.