What Recent Rains Mean for California Farmers

After years of drought, rain has once again returned to California. While many are celebrating, others are dealing with negative consequences including flooding and delayed harvests.

By Mary Hernandez
Jan. 31, 2017 09:43 UTC

As cli­mate change con­tin­ues to wreak havoc on weather pat­terns around the world, California has wel­comed the recent heavy rain­fall as an end to the drought that has plagued region for the past few years.

Most of the recent rain­fall will be col­lected in reser­voirs and aquifers for use in future months, but not all farm­ers will ben­e­fit from the heavy pre­cip­i­ta­tion and reports show that many grow­ers are expe­ri­enc­ing flood­ing and water dam­age that could neg­a­tively impact and delay har­vest­ing for cer­tain exported food crops.

Recent esti­mates from the Center for Investigative Reporting reveal that a third of all rev­enue gen­er­ated by California’s food indus­try comes from exports, which have tripled in value over the past decade. Exporting farm­ers grow­ing spinach, let­tuce and oranges (California’s sig­na­ture win­ter crop) are among the worst affected by the rain.

Muddy con­di­tions, mildew and stand­ing water are pre­vent­ing farm­ers from prun­ing sea­sonal tree crops as well as har­vest­ing and plant­ing pro­duce. An esti­mated two mil­lion acres of irri­gated farm­land in California could be aban­doned due to the recent flood­ing, and with thou­sands of locals depend­ing on these farms for employ­ment, local com­mu­ni­ties could also suf­fer.

California has long been a water-scarce state, with farm­ers reg­u­larly depend­ing on ground­wa­ter and stored rain­wa­ter as a means to irri­gate crops dur­ing the dry peri­ods. The recent rain­fall has not been even across the region but will be able to alle­vi­ate dry con­di­tions in both Northern and Southern California.

As Agricultural Expert and UCCE Farm Advisor Emeritus Paul Vossen explained, two of the largest reser­voirs in north­ern California also feed into the water dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem that sends water to Southern California. So, while Southern California has not received enough rain­fall to com­pletely fill their reser­voirs from rain­fall runoff, their drought sta­tus has been reduced due to the greater avail­abil­ity of water from the north.”

The rain is likely to be wel­comed by olive farm­ers in the area, although they are less affected by the drought due to olives being a hardier crop. According to Vossen, part of California’s suc­cess with grow­ing olives can be attrib­uted to the fact that as an agri­cul­tural crop, olives grown for oil only require about half of the water that other crops need to pro­duce a favor­able yield.

UC Davis Olive Center exec­u­tive direc­tor Dan Flynn told Olive Oil Times that the rein­vig­o­rated water sup­ply may encour­age grow­ers to irri­gate more, which would help increase oil vol­umes later in the year. According to the Agricultural Market Research Center, sup­ple­men­tal irri­ga­tion is encour­aged despite the drought tol­er­ance of the olive tree, as it allows for max­i­mized shoot growth and fruit size, which leads to a bet­ter yield of fruit (and there­fore oil) per acre.

Currently, California is respon­si­ble for pro­duc­ing the vast major­ity of olives in the United States, and has been com­mer­cially pro­duc­ing olives since the 1800s. The area is home to over 400 olive oil pro­duc­ers.


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