2014 Drought:

Governor Brown has asked California’s citizens to voluntarily reduce their water consumption by 20 percent but what are farmers doing to reduce water use? Many farmers will be fallowing, or not planting, their fields simply because there isn’t enough water to meet their needs. Crops, such as broccoli, winter lettuce, cantaloupes and garlic will not be grown in the same quantities that we normally see in California. According to Bloomberg News prices for broccoli, lettuce and tomatoes are up by double digits, with tomatoes reaching their highest prices since 2011.

 

A recent survey of public water agencies that deliver farm water shows that most areas of the state are being affected by the drought. Deliveries of irrigation water are expected to be cut this year by 50 percent or more. About 2 million acres in the San Joaquin Valley are expected to receive no water this year under existing contracts with the State Department of Water Resources or federal Bureau of Reclamation.

Water Conservation or Water Use Efficiency?

The terms water conservation and water use efficiency are often used interchangeably but to water users they’re different things. Water conservation is generally perceived as an activity that reduces the amount of water used to do something, such as wash a load of clothes or take a shower. High efficiency washers and low-flow showerheads conserve water that can then be used by another user or at a later time. Water use efficiency is when a water user does things to achieve more using the same (or less) water. An example could be a farmer who upgrades his or her irrigation system so that water is more efficiently used by the crop, producing more saleable, higher quality crop on roughly the same amount of water. The efficiency is what is gained in crop production.

California farmers depend on reliable water supplies to grow almost half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables and 100 percent of another 14 specialty crops, including almonds, kiwis and clover seeds.

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14 Crops Exclusive to California
Almonds Olives Rice (sweet)
Dates Peaches (clingstone) Seed (ladino clover)
Figs Pistachios Walnuts
Grapes (raisins) Plums (dried/prunes) Kiwis
Pomegranates

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Water Use Efficiency Investments

From 2003 through 2010 San Joaquin Valley farmers invested almost $2.2 billion installing upgraded irrigation systems (drip, micro sprinklers, high-efficiency pumps) on more than 1.8 million acres. High-efficiency irrigation systems deliver water to the crop in precise amounts on a schedule that meets the plant’s growing cycle. Drip irrigation systems limit the amount of water that is consumed by weeds, reducing the need for herbicides or repeated trips with a tractor and cultivator over the field, which saves fuel and helps reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

 

Increased Crop Production/Water Use Efficiency

From 1967 to 2007:

Applied water in agriculture declined 14.5 percent

1967 – 31.2 million acre-feet

2007 – 26.7 million acre-feet

 

Crop production per acre-foot increased 85.4 percent

1967 – 1.15 tons/acre-foot of applied water

2007 – 2.13 tons/acre-foot of applied water

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