Wednesday, May 14, 2014

California's Desperation

Extreme drought is an on-going problem throughout different areas of the United States, including many parts of the Midwest all the way to California.  Over the last decade, California has seen a huge shift from annual crops to nut trees, such as almonds, pistachios etc.  The delicious perennials are extremely lucrative but vast orchards that have been planted throughout the Central Valley require decades-long investments, year-round watering and a commitment from Mother Nature.  One farmer explained his situation, "It's a huge economic loss," said Baker, who looked on forlornly this past week as workers felled his beloved trees. "That's probably $10 million in revenue I lost right there, but with the price of water today, up to $2,500 per acre-foot, there is no way I could have found the water this year. A lot of guys are going to have to make that decision in the next couple of weeks."  California’s switch from annual crops to nuts has been highly profitable in the past bringing the State’s economy $7 billion in sales each year with almonds producing the highest amount at $4.35 billion.  Today there are more than 800,000 acres of almonds in California compared with the 418,000 acres in 1995.  Total production also doubled from 912 million pounds in 2006 to 1.88 billion pounds in 2013.  California alone produces 82% of the world’s almonds. 

            The Drought has also put an enormous strain on local farmers and ranchers.  Pete Craig who owns a large cattle ranch near Lake Berryessa said that the planting of almond orchards took thousands of acres of grazing ground and has put stress on the natural environment.  For decades, ranchers from surrounding states have brought their livestock to California, taking advantage of the mild winters and lush natural pastures which are prime conditions for fattening beef cattle.  With such extreme drought and vast water shortages, ranchers in the Golden State are actually moving their cattle out of the area, loading tens of thousands of heifers and steers onto trucks and hauling them eastward to Nevada, Texas, Nebraska and beyond.  “If there’s no water and no feed, you move the cows,” Gaylord Wright, 65, owner of California Fats and Feeders Inc.  “You move them or they die.”