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July 2007, Volume 13, Number 3

California: Water, Commodities

Water. On June 1, 2007, the delta pumps that send water south via the State Water Project were turned off because of too many smelt killed; the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also reduced pumping. In 1999, the state briefly halted pumping to protect the delta smelt. Both a federal and a state judge recently ruled that the water pumping operations were illegally endangering the smelt and salmon.

The Salton Sea, already 25 percent saltier than the ocean, is becoming saltier as drainage water from Imperial Valley farms runs off into the man-made lake. The Salton Sea was created in 1905, when a levee broke along the Colorado River.

The Klamath River begins in Oregon, flows through northern California, and meets the Pacific Ocean north of Eureka. The Klamath Basin, straddling Oregon and California, became a major agricultural area after Tule Lake was drained. In negotiations to remove four dams to allow salmon to return and spawn, farmers want the right to continue farming about 36,000 acres of lake bottom that is in the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge.

Commodities. California has about 31,000 acres of cherries, which yield 1.5 to 2.5 tons an acre; growers received an average of almost $2 a pound in 2006. High prices have prompted more plantings despite fears of labor shortages. California sweet cherry production more than doubled between 2006 and 2007, to over 90,000 tons. Washington produces over 150,000 tons of sweet cherries a year, and Oregon 50,000 tons.

California farmers produced 10.1 million tons of processing tomatoes in 2006, and are expected to produce more in 2007.

Nuts. Most nuts are harvested mechanically, but workers are hired in winter to prune trees. The largest 25 California growers of almonds, pistachios and walnuts had a total of 224,000 acres in 2006, led by Paramount Farms with 72,000 acres, primarily almonds and pistachios. Farmland Management Services had 20,000 acres; Braden farms 12,000; South Valley Farms 11,000; and Premiere Partners 9,100. All except South Valley were founded in the mid-1980s.

The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association provides six months training to aspiring farmers in the Salinas area, and then leases them 10 acres of land to become farmers. Most ALBA graduates sell their produce at local farmers markets.