El Nino Didn't Fix California's Drought

Catch the Buzz   February 27, 2016

California’s drought still remains, and the worst of it is still unchanged from last week. This follows a continuing trend of dry conditions returning to the West Coast. At the beginning of winter, there were high hopes this El Niño, one of the strongest in recorded history, would give California a much needed shot of rain water, something that’s been in short supply for years.

The drought conditions did improve slightly over the course of the rainy season. But now it’s coming to an end, and the drought still lingers. The chances of a last-minute downpour ending the drought in the coming weeks are slim to none.

Long-term forecasts show nothing but dry conditions through at least the first week of March. So it appears we’ll keep talking about California’s drought for some time to come.


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.


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

Almond Prices Surge as Sales Boom Collides With Drought

Bloomberg News   By Leslie Patton  July 5, 2015

The almond is having its moment.

Though criticized for being a water-thirsty crop grown mostly in California, almonds are more popular than ever. And spreads made from the tree nut are increasingly supplanting peanut butter in U.S. lunch boxes and pantries. Americans are eating about 2 pounds of almonds per person annually, double the amount they consumed just seven years ago.

Protein-rich Paleo diets, peanut-butter allergies and evolving

tastes have all fueled demand. That’s sent major U.S. food makers such as Hain Celestial Group Inc. and JM Smucker Co. into the market, where they’re vying against smaller suppliers. Almond butter now comes in a range of flavors, including maple and dark chocolate.

But the almond craze has come at a cost. The growth in consumption -- coupled with smaller crops...

Read more...http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-06/almond-prices-surge-as-sales-boom-collides-with-drought

California's Wildflowers and Grasslands and Drought Extends Up Food Chain to Affect Insects, Wildlife, and Cattle

CATCH THE BUZZ/Bee Culture   By Dianne Tepra, Tech Times   June 26, 2015

The drought in California has greatly reduced the population of wildflowers native to the state’s grassland, potentially giving a glimpse of how climate change can affect plant life in the coming years, scientists at UC Davis say.

At the moment, impact appears minimal, what with mostly drought-intolerant species succumbing to the dryer seasons over the past 15 years in plots monitored at the school’s McLaughlin Reserve, but the researchers are saying that the effect of wildflowers dying off can extend up the food chain as the grassland species are a key source of nourishment for insects, deer, birds, seed-eating rodents and cattle.

“Such diversity losses may foreshadow larger-scale extinctions, especially in regions that are becoming increasingly dry...


How California's Drought Could Spur an Ecological Rebirth

The Guardian   By Brandon Keim  June 21, 2015

As water-hungry turf turns brown in the state’s fourth year of severe drought, many homeowners find the time ripe to revegetate with native plants such as cacti, buckwheat and sage scrub: ‘It’s helping sustain biodiversity’

The arboretum at the University of California, Irvine. Photograph: Steve Zylius/UC Irvine CommunicationsJennifer and Lawrence Kesteloot like to begin the day with breakfast in their San Francisco backyard garden. For the last several months, they’ve had guests: iridescent green-and-red Anna’s hummingbirds, drawn by wildflowers planted to replace what had been dead brown turf grass and concrete.

The Kesteloots hadn’t considered hummingbirds when imagining their garden. Mostly they were concerned about not using much water amidst the deprivations and uncertainties of California’s drought.

The ecologically rich plantings, the beds of California poppies and wild lilacs, were the...



From Food Tank: More Crop Per Drop

CATCH THE BUZZ - Kim Flottum   3/20/14

This Saturday, March 22nd, the world celebrates World Water Day. Water and agriculture are inextricably interlinked and interdependent. Agriculture is a major user of both ground and surface water for irrigation—accounting for about 70 percent of water withdrawal worldwide.

Modern irrigation practices, including center pivot irrigation systems, can help improve crop productivity and yields. Unfortunately, irrigation is also the source of excessive water depletion from aquifers, erosion, and soil degradation. But using rainwater harvesting, zai pits, micro-irrigation, bottle irrigation, gravity drip buckets, rotational grazing systems, and other water-saving practices can all help create diverse landscapes, supporting wildlife and culture.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 47 percent of the population could be living under severe water stress by 2050. “The world is thirsty because it is hungry,” reports the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). We all consume around 3,800 liters of water everyday and 92 percent of that is used to produce the food we eat, making sustainable practices and reducing water consumption in food, also known as “virtual water,” even more necessary.

Europe uses, on average, 44 percent of water for agricultural use. In the United States, agriculture accounts for around 80 percent of consumptive water use. And in Western U.S. States, such as California, over 90 percent of water use is for agricultural purposes.

California is also facing the worst drought since records began, 100 years ago—approximately 95 percent of the state remains in a drought, with about 23 percent experiencing “exceptional” drought. The state also happens to be America’s breadbasket, supplying nearly half the country's fruits, nuts, and vegetables, and is a major producer of almonds, artichokes, grapes, olives, and other products.


This message brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ: Kim Flottom,  Bee Culture, The Magazine Of American Beekeeping, published by the A.I. Root Company. Twitter.FacebookBee Culture’s Blog.

Drought monitor information … Dry in the west, better in the east

(The following is brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ (Kim Flottum) Bee Culture, The Magazine of American Beekeeping, published by A.I. Root Company.) 2/22/13 

Drought improved in central and southern Georgia and South Carolina and in south Florida, as well as eastern Texas, the Texas Panhandle and central Arizona. Drought got worse in northern and central Florida, south Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle, and a new area of abnormal dryness, the precursor to drought, was introduced in northern California. Drought over the Plains was unchanged. Over the next week to ten days, several storm systems are anticipated to come out of the Southwest and onto the Plains. The moisture associated with these storms may not make it into the frozen ground, but the runoff associated with them will improve some of the reservoir, pond, and lake levels that are also hurting. The winter precipitation deficits are so great throughout the Plains that as we get closer to the spring thaw, we would need several storms to make a significant dent in the ongoing drought. For a good look at the Drought monitor map for the next several months, follow the link below.