Wonderful Orchard Slashes Almond Production

Catch the Buzz    By Mike Hornick, The Packer   February 29, 2016

Citing the state’s drought and unfavorable business conditions, Wonderful Orchards — previously known as Paramount Farms — is removing 10,000 acres of almond trees in California.

“Due to limited water resources and market factors, Wonderful Orchards is reducing its western Kern County almond orchards by 10,000 acres, effective immediately,” Steve Clark, vice president of corporate communications for The Wonderful Co., said Feb. 25.

“We remain committed to our Central Valley farming operations and will continue to look for growth opportunities,” he said.

Wonderful Orchards did not announce plans for the acreage.

Kern County was home to 208,250 acres of almonds in 2014, up from 148,595 the year before, according to county crop reports.

February is bloom time for California almonds.

The decision by Wonderful Orchards comes as the drought picture in California is improving — but not as quickly as state officials want.

On Feb. 24, the California Department of Water Resources increased its water allocation estimate for most recipients to 30% of requests. That’s the second increase on December’s estimate of 10%. It went to 15% in January after storms padded Sierra Nevada snowpack and brought significant rainfall.

The latest increase, though, remains largely based on January totals, and far short of what growers would prefer. February has been “remarkably dry” in California, according to CDWR director Mark Cowin.

“(The) increase, although good news, does not mean the drought is ending,” Cowin said in a news release. “After more than four dry years, we still have a critical water shortage. We need a lot more wet weather this winter to take the edge off drought.”

http://goo.gl/Wph3JG 

Drought is Driving Beekeepers and Their Hives From California

 NPR Radio   Ezra David Romero   September 29, 2015

ABF President Tim Tucker and ABF Vice President Gene Brandi were on NPR this morning.

The drought in California over the past four years has hit the agriculture industry hard, especially one of the smallest farm creatures: honeybees. A lack of crops for bees to pollinate has California's beekeeping industry on edge.

Gene Brandi is one of those beekeepers. He has a colony of bees near a field of blooming alfalfa just outside the Central California town of Los Banos. He uses smoke from a canister of burning burlap to calm the bees.

"It evokes a natural reaction, as if there were really a fire. And smoke helps to mask the pheromones that they communicate with," Brandi explains.

Brandi has worked with bees since the early '70s. He has more than 2,000 hives across the state, with around 30,000 bees in each one.

"I'm going to pull out this next frame here," says Brandi, showing me some of his hives. "Looking for the queen again — there she is. She's still laying eggs."

The lack of rain and snow has reduced the amount of plants the bees feed on, which in turn limits the amount of pollen and nectar that bees collect. Normally, there are crops and wildflowers blooming here at any given time. This year in the state, there are just not enough plants and trees in bloom to keep many commercial beekeepers profitable.

But Brandi is managing to keep his head above water by strategically placing his bees in the few spots where there are both crops and water.

A well pumps water into a canal on this farm. Thistle blooms on the banks. Nearby, cotton and alfalfa crops are growing. It's enough to keep his bees happy. But fallow farmland surrounds the area.

"In the drought years we just don't make as much honey," says Brandi. "I mean, we're very thankful that we have places like this, where the bees have made some honey this summer."

Brandi says because of the lack of natural food for the honeybees, many beekeepers have to feed their colonies processed bee food, which is a mixture of pollen and oil. They're also feeding the bees a honey substitute made of sugar syrup.

"If there's not adequate feed, we need to supply it. Otherwise, they're not going to make it, they're going to die," Brandi says.

The quality of these meal substitutes isn't as good as the real deal. They're expensive, and it's like eating fresh versus canned vegetables. Beekeepers are also supplying bees with water.

Tim Tucker, president of the American Beekeeping Federation, says the expense in providing food and drink to the bees is causing more beekeepers to take their bees out of California and into other states.

"Commercial beekeepers are having difficult times keeping bees alive, and they're kind of spread out," Tucker says. "They're going to Montana and they're going to North Dakota."

That raises concerns among farmers who rely on those bees to pollinate the 400-plus crops grown in California's Central Valley. It's especially important to have them here in the spring, when the region's 900,000-plus acres of almonds bloom.

"They're scrambling, trying to figure out as many options as possible to make sure their bees stay healthy and are prepared for next year," says Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. "That includes trying to move to newer areas and trying to plant new feed sources."

Jacobsen also notes that this drought is really the second punch to the beekeeping industry in the past 10 years. Each winter, as much as 40 percent of the honeybees in the West disappear due to the unexplained colony collapse disorder.

The expense of moving bees and the fear of weakening colonies are reasons why beekeepers like Gene Brandi have taken the risk of not sending their bees out of state.

"Bees are like cattle, in the sense that the pasture can be overcrowded. And even though we have less forage then normal, it's still more forage than other parts of the state," says Brandi.

And just like every other farmer in the region, Brandi and his beekeeping counterparts say rain and snow are the only true answer to reviving the California beekeeping industry.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/09/29/442670602/drought-is-driving-beekeepers-and-their-hives-from-california

Oranges, and Orange Honey Going Away in California

CATCH THE BUZZ/ The Delta Times   By John Lindt   September 18, 2015

A Terra Bella citrus farmer’s valencia orchards are being uprooted, due to lack of water

Terra Bella Irrigation District in southern Tulare County, California is a great place to grow citrus, but only if there is water.

“We find groves in Terra Bella enjoy a unique micro-climate and survives frost well” observes Sean Geivet, general manager of the district.

It is the home to about 400 citrus farmers who at least until two years ago — had about 10,000 acres of citrus trees.

“We figure we have lost 50 to 60 percent of those groves due to lack of water in the past two years” he said.” “It’s pretty depressing.”

No doubt the Terra Bella district south of Porterville has been hardest hit with at least 5,000 fewer acres due to the drought. In the Central Valley, Citrus Mutual president Joel Nelsen says they estimate over the past two year we have lost about 25,000 citrus acres, mostly Valencia and some early navels he says.

Nelsen says most other citrus growers have managed to keep their trees alive on groundwater.

Unlike other districts around here, Terra Bella has virtually no ground water but depends on surface water delivered since the 1950s from the Friant Kern Canal.

Geivet says the district in a normal year would deliver around 20,000 acre feet of irrigation water to farmers. But last year due the drought — they got only 11,000 acre feet with some creative trades and cash on the barrel head.

This year the district got only half that, about 5500 acre feet.

Again this was through a water exchange where “there was enough money to make the water move” he figures.

With water that some have had “farmers have kept their most productive trees alive on a life support basis.”

Local farm manager Ed Chambers says he sees another grove bite the dust on a regular basis including some groves over 100 years old. “I counted 106 rings on the trunk of one of them the other day.”

Chambers says farmers here who have some water are paying more for it than their crop is worth. Chambers also farms in the Porterville area and has seen lots of his neighbors’ wells go dry. “They are reaching water at 150 feet when five years ago it was 25 to 30 feet.”

“The Porterville area, if it gets 12 inches of rain this winter, will survive” says Chambers since they will get river water. “But not Terra Bella.”

“If the federal government does not supply water to Terra Bella it will all just go away,” he said.

Part of the reason why Terra Bella has little good ground water is its proximity to the Deer Creek oilfield as hydrocarbons have migrated into the aquifers here.

While a number of the trees that have met the bulldozer are the out of fashion Valencia variety, Chambers says it has affected all citrus types.

Read at: http://goo.gl/9hppjf

Commentary: We Must Communicate the Facts About Water Use

AgAlert   By Mark Jansen   May 26, 2015

The headlines have been unavoidable. Almonds have been painted as our state's "thirstiest" crop, but what these stories lack is context. The management team from the Blue Diamond Growers cooperative has been collaborating with industry experts to communicate the facts about agricultural water use to the media and our urban neighbors.

According to a recent editorial in the San Jose Mercury News, "California's dams and reservoirs were never envisioned to release water year-round for environmental objectives such as aiding the delta smelt or reintroducing salmon in the San Joaquin River watershed. A majority of reservoir water once intended for households or farming is simply sent out to sea."

Clearly, our solution to California's water situation will require a collaborative effort among all Californians to find a solution that makes sense for everyone.

The drought debate continues as we enter the hot, dry summer of the Central Valley, with mandatory water restrictions now in place throughout our state. For many Californians, that means the drought will now affect their day-to-day lives. Millions of urban Californians will have to join agriculture in the fight to save water and push for storage to protect our future. Gov. Brown's mandate made it clear that all Californians need to do their part to conserve our most precious resource, and yet the media firestorm aimed at agriculture, and almonds specifically, has been fierce.

Our message has been simple: All food takes water to grow.

California's agricultural abilities are second to none. In fact, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, nearly half of our country's fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California. And CDFA reports that from 1967 to 2010, California agriculture has increased revenue and decreased total applied water use by 20 percent.

In order to achieve such an impressive statistic, access to a consistent water supply is key. The amount of water required for California farming to grow our food is only 40 percent of captured water, with environmental projects taking the majority at 50 percent. The often-quoted 80 percent ignores any water used for environmental purposes.

I have read suggestions that agriculture has been let off the hook by the governor's mandate. Here are the facts: In 2014, farmers received only 5 percent of their contracted State Water Project allocation and 0 percent from the federal Central Valley Project. This year, farmers are projected to receive 20 percent of State Water Project allocation and again, 0 percent of CVP water. Our farmers have been feeling the effects of this drought from the very beginning.

Some have questioned whether agriculture's economic impact justifies the amount of water used by the industry. The media points to agriculture's 2.8 percent share of the state GDP, but again, this figure lacks context. It does not tell the whole story. Getting our food from farm to fork involves an interconnected supply chain, undoubtedly contributing significantly more than 2.8 percent to the state's economy. The almond industry alone contributes 104,000 jobs to California, 97,000 of which reside in the Central Valley, and more than 37,000 additional jobs throughout the supply chain.

Speaking of almonds, there are 9 million acres of farmland in California and almonds account for 12 percent of that total, while only using 8 percent of the water currently used for agriculture. Almond crops produce more than just the kernels humans eat, which provide an efficient source of a heart-healthy, plant-based protein. The almond crop also produces hulls and shells that provide feed and bedding for livestock animals. Almonds rank No. 1 in California for food exports out of the state, with North America consuming four times more almonds than any other market. Our industry is a global driver of $11 billion in economic activity for California.

In the last 20 years, California almond growers have reduced the amount of water required to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent. Nearly 70 percent of almond growers use micro-irrigation systems and more than 80 percent use demand-based irrigation scheduling. No one in the world can produce a high-quality almond as efficiently as we can in California.

In times of crisis, there are people who look for someone to blame. Almonds were the first target. Through sharing a few facts about our water stewardship, the media tide has turned to more balanced reporting. As the weather continues to warm into the summer, I expect agriculture will continue to field questions from our urban neighbors about water. Rest assured that Blue Diamond is committed to collaborating with our industry peers, water and environmental experts, consumer groups, regulatory bodies and policy makers to establish a water policy that makes sense for all Californians—rural and urban, Central Valley and coastal, producers and consumers.

(Mark Jansen is president and CEO of Blue Diamond Growers in Sacramento.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

Read at... http://www.agalert.com/story/?id=8324