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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

California Drought: A Central Valley Farmer’s Experience

Shiraz Ranch grows fruit, nuts and vegetables on 1,200 acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley, California. (shirazranch.com)

Shiraz Ranch grows fruit, nuts and vegetables on 1,200 acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley, California. (shirazranch.com)

Last month was the Earth’s warmest June since records began in 1880, according to data released Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It has made the West Coast drought even harder for California farmers.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks to Barat Bisabri, part owner and managing partner of Shiraz Ranch in the San Joaquin Valley in California about the struggles of farming in extreme drought and heat.

He also speaks with Lauren Sommer, science and environment reporter for KQED, for a wider look at how the drought is impacting agriculture and residents.

Interview Highlights: Barat Bisabri

On how water allocations and expensive additional water is impacting the farm

“Citrus, especially the mandarins that we grow, need a certain amount of water. You can’t say, ‘I’m gonna cut the water, say, 30 percent.’ If you cut the water, the fruit is going to be tiny fruit and the packers are not gonna pack that and it’s all gonna be thrown away. So I had to decide which acreage is gonna get water and which acreage is not gonna get water. And, to make long story short, I decided to take out about 85 acres of really well-producing citrus out of production… The reason that I took those acres out — they were in their prime, they were producing good fruit and good production — but when I plugged into my Excel sheets the cost of my water, it came out that I would lose about $1,500 dollars an acre if I farmed them this year, even if I found the water.”

On how the drought is affecting employment

“In my operation, I did not lay off any staff. But, a lot of my neighbors that are on the row crops, many, many of them have laid-off quite a few people. If you go to the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, this year unemployment is just really horrendous and very sad. People who were gonna work on these melon fields, tomato fields, harvesting them, packing them — they’re out of jobs.”

On an ongoing water crisis

“A lot of public doesn’t understand this: if we get a normal rain next year, our allocations are still projected to be zero because there is so much catching up to do. So many of the reservoirs are empty for other purposes, like the wildlife, like the municipal, like the water that goes to Los Angeles basin. We’re not gonna have water next year, again.”

Guests

  • Barat Bisabri, part owner and managing partner of Shiraz Ranch in the San Joaquin Valley in California.
  • Lauren Sommer, science and environment reporter for KQED, part of the Here & Now Contributor’s Network. She tweets @lesommer.

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