California reaches its fourth year in what scientists are calling the worst drought in 1,200 years
The current drought is changing the landscape all over California, and two groups that are dealing with those changes first-hand are local farmers and beekeepers.
An unprecedented drought is causing an epidemic in California, bees and beekeepers’ hives that produce honey are vanishing from local farms.
According to a Greenpeace.org report there are two problems killing off hives. First: global warming is causing flowers to bloom before bees end their hibernation, creating a pollen scarcity for them. Second: there’s not enough water for the bees to drink and cool their hives.
Produce and honey production put a high demand on the scarce state water supply. In a recent Washington Post article agriculture uses up to 80 percent of the state’s water supply.
Escondido farmer Joe Rodriguez says that farming’s water cost is soaring to astronomical heights.
“We were like $300 an acre for water and now we’re at like $2,000 (an acre). For the same amount of water… that’s how much it’s gone up,” Rodriguez said.
MULTIMEDIA: The agribusiness is facing some hardships trying to stay afloat during the four-year drought in California. Barry Koral’s Tropical Fruit Farm and the Rodriguez Family Farm are produce growers from San Diego who continue to do business despite the rising cost of water.
Change in the social climate
Everyone in the state has been affected by this drought. Kids aren’t playing in luscious green lawns, but rather in patchy browned grass. Drought shaming, a type of community policing, is going on in neighborhoods all over the state. People have taken to Twitter in order to bring the biggest water waster to light.
Recently San Diego’s City Council approved a measure that would help decrease the city and county’s dependency on out-of-state water sources by raising water rates to develop their own; another example of the water supply evaporating right before our eyes.
Rain in the forecast.
The El Niño of 1997 eroded San Diego’s coastline, flooded homes and destroyed natural waterways and their surrounding watersheds. An El Niño storm season is predicted this winter, but will it bring enough to quench the dry lands across California or cause the same havoc it did in 1997?
San Diego State University Professor of Geography, Trent Briggs says yes and no.
“Not enough water is a problem, but too much water can also be a problem,” Briggs says. “Particularly in areas where the vegetation might have died back… there could be more landslide hazard.”
Back on the family farm
Joe Rodriguez’s family has had a farm in Escondido for more than 50 years. When the farm opened flowers fields spanned 190 acres, but that’s when flowers were in high demand and profitable.
The farm has since cut the flower fields from 190 acres to a mere eight. He blames the drought and the increasing water rates for the serious downgrade.
Eric Larson, executive director for the San Diego County Farm Bureau, says part of the problem is the diversified water sources that the San Diego County Water Authority provides for citizens, like us, as well as for local farmers.
“Farmers end up paying an extraordinarily high price for the water,” Larson says. Farmers pay the same rates households do—but on a much larger scale.
For now Rodriguez is using community supported agriculture to keep the farm in business. In this type of system, households and even whole neighborhoods select packages of produce hand-picked from the farm. Those families can then pick up those packages at their local farmers market.
Some of Rodriguez’s crops are being held in greenhouses, not an uncommon practice that farmers will use to maximize the harvests collected.
“Everything we would pop in the ground we could really sell. Not a problem. Not a challenge,” Rodriguez said.
Kale, spinach, cabbage and broccoli are some of the crops in the greenhouses. The normal planting season for those crops is July, but farmers are waiting nearly three months longer than usual to put the prepped seedlings in the ground. What it means is less harvests and overall less income for Rodriguez.
Water needs of the honeybee hive
Produce farmers aren’t the only ones feeling the drought’s negative effects. Beekeepers are also seeing their harvest season shrink year after year.
Janet Henninger operates Farmer’s Daughter Farm in the Temecula Valley. She is a honey-selling regular at farmers markets all over San Diego. She has been directly impacted by the drought that is cutting down on the time the honeybees have to produce honey.
One of the popular types of honey sold at farmers markets is avocado honey, but the drought has made growing avocados almost impossible.
Avocado groves are shutting down left and right in San Diego. Eric Larson, executive director for the San Diego County Farm Bureau, says small farmers are seeing costs go up too rapidly and aren’t able to keep their profits up at the same rate.
“Avocados are the single biggest footprint of irrigated agriculture in San Diego County,” Larson says. “As the price of water goes up the profit margin narrows.
“Some folks, especially the older farmers, who don’t want to invest in new technology, simply because of their age, they’re the ones that are dropping out and shutting the water off and abandoning their avocados.”
A fruit farmer’s new order of thinking
Barry Koral is a raw food enthusiast, with firm beliefs in the mental healing power of a vegan diet. Koral is a Vista farmer focused on reclaiming water on his property and using it to water his fruit trees.
“I have an outdoor shower and the pipes lead to the trees,” Koral said. “What I really believe in is reusing the materials.”
Koral says that the water shortages seen now are our own doing.
“I think there’s a tremendous need for people to start waking up to realize the preciousness of (resources),” Koral said.
The self-proclaimed “veganic,” a term he came up with himself, believes in growing fruit in the most organic way possible. He even uses natural worm-sourced compost as manure. Koral hopes that through his enthusiasm at farmers markets and outreach at public speaking events he can raise awareness.
“You don’t really realize it, until you’re without,” Koral said.