California has emerged as the world's almond orchard because of near-perfect conditions for the crop, but in terms of production, it may have hit its peak, reported Jennifer Rankin in The Guardian.
"The future for farming almonds in California will always be there," said David Doll, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Merced County. "It is more about coming into balance with our water resources."
The story quoted from a UC report that California farmers have spent an extra $500 million this year pumping extra water to cope with the drought.
Co-author of the study, Richard Howitt, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, cautioned against singling out particular crops.
"Don't blame almonds for the problem," he said. "The problem is one of water mismanagement."
He suggested changes in how California manages water so farmers monitor their groundwater use and replenish supplies when there is more rain.
"[The farmers] should be repaying what they are taking. And if they are taking more, as they always are in droughts, then they should be making plans to repay it back in wet years. If you treat your groundwater the way you treat your retirement account, then everything would be OK."
More information about water stress in almonds may be found in David Doll's blog, The Almond Doctor.
Because of the drought, California almond farmers have been forced to drill new wells, rely on salty groundwater for irrigation and bulldoze some trees, reported Robert Rodriguez in the Fresno Bee.
The story presented results from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, which worked with state ag officials to send surveys to 688 California almond farmers; 458 of them responded.
The survey found that nearly 70 percent of almond farmers have only groundwater to irrigate their trees. About 23 percent said they had to drill new wells and 32 percent were reconditioning existing wells.
Normally growers mix surface water with groundwater to dilute the salts in water that has been pumped up from wells. But for many farmers, that hasn't been possible this year.
"Consequently, the amount of salt in the trees has placed them under stress and it is being reflected in smaller nut size, reduced growth and the potential for small crops in the future," said Bob Beede, University of California Cooperative Extension emeritus adviser who specialists in nut crops. He added that salt buildup can kill a tree.
Giant King Grass is a fast-growing, high-yield grass that grows under a variety of soil conditions, according to Viaspace Green Energy Inc. It is propagated vegetatively and, with sufficient rain or irrigation, can grow 15 to 18 feet high in six months.
At the UC Desert Rec, scientists compared two planting processes:
- Planting single nodes that grow into individual plants with some space between them.
- Planting whole stalks continuously end to end, which results in a dense row of plants about six inches apart.
Preliminary results showed the whole stalk planting germinated earlier and grew more quickly. The individual plants had a significant number of skips where the nodes failed to germinate.
Two harvesting regimens were tested:
- Harvest when the plant is 6 to 8 feet tall every two months for animal feed and to produce biogas for anaerobic digestion.
- Harvest when the plant is 15 to 18 feet tall for bioenergy applications, such as direct combustion in a power plant, energy pellets or cellulosic biofuels.
"It was 108 degrees when I arrived in Holtville last Monday evening (Sept. 8, 2014) at 6 p.m.," said Carl Kukkonen, CEO of Viaspace. "Giant King Grass is planted in the worst soil at the University of California site, and still the results are good. I am pleased that Giant King Grass grows well in this extremely hot and dry environment."
The concept of RDI has been the subject of UC research for decades. Traditionally in irrigated agriculture, farmers give crops all the water they can drink. RDI relies on research that shows exactly when farmers can withhold water from crops and when to irrigate for maximum water efficiency.
Paul Verdegaal, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in San Joaquin County, said water deficits at the right time in plant and fruit development can improve berry quality, especially in red wine varieties, by intensifying color and flavor. Slight deficits also limit excessive growth of shoots and leaves that can affect diseases, such as bunch rot.
"So far the crop doesn't seem all that much lighter than average," Vergegaal said. "Most growers who have been using RDI for the past several years have seen very good quality of fruit and little to no difference in yields from years past.”
Bruce Lindquist, UCCE specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, told the reporter that some farmers have decided to sell their water instead of trying to grow a crop. In fact, water is at such a premium, it is impacting the sale of farmland in California.
"It used to be location, location, location when it came to sales, but now it's water, water, water," said a real estate agent interviewed for the story.
The story included an interview with Northern California rice producer Sherry Polit.
"If we keep going through this drought, it may make us quit and sell the ranch," she said. "We've been rice farmers for 31 years and growing olives for five," she said. "But we just can't take this anymore. We've got to get some rain or this could be over."
Bees Butler, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at UC Davis, said a drop-off in California rice production will likely have an effect on global markets in time. However, in the immediate future, there is rice in storage to meet world needs.