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

 

California Drought Stings Bees, Honey Supplies

Telegram.com    By Terence Chea    August 22, 2014

LOS BANOS, Calif. — California's record drought hasn't been sweet to honeybees, and it's creating a sticky situation for beekeepers and honey buyers. 

The state is traditionally one of the country's largest honey producers, with abundant crops and wildflowers that provide the nectar that bees turn into honey. But the lack of rain has ravaged native plants and forced farmers to scale back crop production, leaving fewer places for honeybees to forage. 

The historic drought, now in its third year, is reducing supplies of California honey, raising prices for consumers and making it harder for beekeepers to earn a living. 

''Our honey crop is severely impacted by the drought, and it does impact our bottom line as a business,'' said Gene Brandi, a beekeeper in Los Banos, a farming town in California's Central Valley. 

The state's deepening drought is having widespread impacts across the state. More than 80 percent of the state is under ''extreme'' or ''exceptional'' drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency, and residents now face fines of up to $500 a day for wasting water. 

The drought is just the latest blow to honeybees, which pollinate about one third of U.S. agricultural crops. In recent years, bee populations worldwide have been decimated by pesticides, parasites and colony collapse disorder, a mysterious phenomenon in which worker bees suddenly disappear. 

The drought is worsening a worldwide shortage of honey that has pushed prices to all-time highs. Over the past eight years, the average retail price for honey has increased 65 percent from $3.83 to $6.32 per pound, according to the National Honey Board. 

Since the drought began, California's honey crop has fallen sharply from 27.5 million pounds in 2010 to 10.9 million pounds last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And this year's crop is expected to be even worse. 

California was the country's leading honey producer as recently as 2003, but it has since been surpassed by North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota and Florida. In 2013, California produced less than 10 percent of the country's $317 million honey crop. 

On a recent summer morning in Los Banos, swarms of honeybees surrounded Gene Brandi and his son Mike, wearing white helmets with mesh veils, as they cracked open wooden hives and inserted packets of protein supplement to keep the insects healthy. 

This year their colonies have only produced about 10 percent of the honey they make in a good year, said Brandi, who is vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation. 

Besides selling honey, beekeepers earn their living from pollinating crops such as almonds, cotton, alfalfa and melons. But farmers are renting fewer hives because the lack of irrigation water has forced them to tear out orchards and leave fields unplanted. 

Like many beekeepers, Brandi is feeding his bees a lot more sugar syrup than usual to compensate for the lack of nectar. The supplemental feed keeps the bees alive, but it's expensive and doesn't produce honey. 

''Not only are you feeding as an expense, but you aren't gaining any income.'' said Brandi's son Mike, who's also a beekeeper. ''If this would persist, you'd see higher food costs, higher pollination fees and unfortunately higher prices for the commodity of honey.'' 

Many California beekeepers, including Gene Brandi's brother, are taking their hives to states such as North Dakota where they can forage in clover and buckwheat fields. 

The drought is hurting businesses such as Marshall's Farm Honey, which supplies raw honey to high-end restaurants, grocery stores and farmers markets in Northern California. 

The Napa Valley business is having trouble making and buying enough honey to meet the demands of its customers. Many varieties such as honey made from sage and star-thistle aren't available at all because it's too dry for their flowers to produce nectar. 

''They keep coming back wanting more, and it's very painful to have to say, 'We don't have it,''' said Helene Marshall, who runs the business with her husband Spencer. ''There's increased demand because of increased awareness of how good it is for you, and there is less supply.'' 

Spencer Marshall, who maintains hives throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, said this is by far the worst year for honey production he's seen in five decades of beekeeping. When the drought ends, ''the bees may come back, but the beekeepers may not,'' Marshall said. 

Amelia Barad-Humphries, who owns a restaurant and floral business in Napa Valley, said she's concerned about the drought's impact on bees and honey supplies. She said she eats a teaspoon of local honey every day to keep her allergies in check and she relies on bees to pollinate her backyard garden. 

''We need honeybees for everything,'' she said. ''People should be paying attention.''

Read at... http://www.telegram.com/article/20140822/NEWS/308229949/1052

California Drought Hurts Honey Bees

KMJNOW News Talk Radio         1/22/14

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Bill Lewis, the President of the California Beekeepers Association is worried about the lack of forage for honey bees this year.  

He says there will be lots of almond pollen for bees to feed on in the coming weeks.  But after mid March he fears there will not be a lot other blooming plants for the bees to feed upon.  

Lewis says the reason is simple, the ongoing drought in our state. Lewis believes the lack of forage is more of a concern than even a new virus that the USDA just recently information about.  

Without a good food source, Lewis says, bee colonies will have a tougher time with fighting virus outbreaks.  Millions of bees are used each year to pollinate the almond and other crops.

http://www.kmjnow.com/01/22/14/Cal-Drought-Impacts-Honey-Bees/landing.html?blockID=735083&feedID=806