WASHINGTON, March 11, 2015 – While winter storms during the first week of March brought much-needed rain and snow to parts of the Southwest, they weren’t enough to improve drought conditions for most producers in the nation’s leading farm state, California.
“It’s not looking good this year,” said Mike Ward, spokesman for the Farm Water Coalition in California. “We’ve had some precipitation, a little more than last year, but the drought’s driving factors,” such as low snowpack and depleted reservoirs, have been little affected.
The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, published March 3, supports Ward’s observations. David Simeral, the author of the drought report, said snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada Range is still in “very poor condition” even after the central portion of the state received increased precipitation last week.
California’s Department of Water Resources also released a snowpack report on March 3 that found the statewide snow water equivalent was a mere 5 inches, or just 19 percent of normal for this time of year.
For California farmers, the continuation of the drought means “more of the same from last year” in terms of land fallowed, Ward predicted. The University of California’s Center for Watershed Sciences released a report in 2014 that estimated at least 430,000 acres would be left fallow in 2014 as the result of drought conditions.
Dave Kranz, spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said the number of acres left idle in 2014 was probably closer to half a million – or more than one and a half times the size of Los Angeles -- and could increase this year.
“I do think you’ll see more land left idle and potentially some orchards and citrus groves pushed out this year” like they were in 2014, Kranz said.
Farmers will have to decide which fields to let go idle and what to farm, he continued. “Last year farmers let cropland go idle and dedicated their water to trees and vines and I think you’ll see that sort of approach this year as well.”
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