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More California Farmland Likely Fallowed In 2015

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Some people claim California's mandatory water reductions let the agriculture industry "off the hook."

The agriculture industry uses 80 percent of the state’s water supply but is not facing any restrictions, while other water users face a mandatory 25 percent cut.

But state farmers say they've sustained cutbacks in state and federal water allotments the past two years, and will again this year.

"California farmers have already borne the brunt of the current drought cycle, two-three years now,” said Chris Scheuring, environmental lawyer with the California Farm Bureau Federation. “So asking farmers to cut back 25 percent from ditches that are already empty is kind of a mathematical impossibility."

Scheuring’s family farms walnuts and almonds in Yolo County.

He said it's likely more California farmland will be fallowed this year.

"I don't think we're losing farms permanently on a wholesale basis yet, but we may be getting to that point now,” said Scheuring. “That's not to say that we haven't had a huge amount of fallowing, we did, we fallowed something like 500,000 acres last year and the whispers I'm hearing this year is it could be up to twice that amount."

Scheuring says California's agricultural industry has become more efficient in its water use the last few decades.  

“Our farm went to drip irrigation in the 1980s,” said Scheuring. “We got zero percent from the local water district in Yolo County last year, but we were able to turn on the pumps and use some groundwater to prevent the loss of any crops. But that’s not a long term solution because aquifers can be overtaxed too.”

He says more planning is needed to manage the scarcity of the state’s water supply going forward.

“We’ve always faced periods of drought and water scarcity,” said Scheuring. “Water is our existential threat in the agricultural industry going forward in the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years.”

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