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April 2009, Volume 15, Number 2

California Agriculture: Water

Water. The 500,000-acre Delta region, where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers meet, is the transit point for water transfers from northern California mountains to San Joaquin valley farmers and urban residents in southern California. Giant pumps take the fresh water arriving from the Sacramento river and feed it into a system of canals that transport it south.

The Delta is home to several endangered fish species, including smelt and salmon, and judges have stopped or reduced pumping to preserve the fish. There have been numerous studies of how to continue moving water from northern to southern California while preserving Delta fish. Voters in 1982 rejected a proposal to build a canal inland from the Delta, but the peripheral canal was revived in 2009 after several dry years and a likely drought again in 2008-09.

The Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously on March 4, 2009 to list the longfin smelt and the delta smelt as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. The move could trigger cuts to the state's water supplies for crops and cities. The decision could allow for a separate set of cutbacks to be triggered if scientists find that the smelt are at risk of being killed by the giant pumps that send water from the Delta to more than 25 million Californians.

The March 4 decision sets in stone an agreement between the department and state water officials that protects the longfin smelt from December to June, while the fish migrate, spawn and hatch in the delta. If scientists find fish in dangerous conditions during that time frame, it triggers an evaluation process that involves five state and federal agencies, but the final decision is made by the director of the Department of Fish and Game.

Cotton farmer James G. Boswell II died in April 2009. The so-called King of California owned about 150,000 acres around the city of Corcoran. Headquartered in Pasadena, Boswell's farming operation was an innovator in cotton production and water use, spending $1 million in 1982 to defeat the proposed Peripheral Canal to bypass the Delta.

The Boswell farming empire was launched in 1921 by Boswell's uncle, J. G. Boswell, who began farming around Corcoran and married Ruth Chandler (Los Angeles Times). They had no children, and J.G. Boswell II took over and promptly doubled the size of the ranch. In the low-wage San Joaquin Valley, Boswell paid better than other farmers and hired the best available workers.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in February 2009 warned that global warming could reduce the Sierra snow pack by 90 percent, eliminating a natural storage system at the heart of California's water system.

Citrus. Asian citrus psyllid is an insect that spreads citrus greening disease by carrying the bacterium from one tree to another. It has already caused significant damage in Florida and Brazil, and appears to have moved north from Mexico into San Diego in 2009. There are no effective parasites or predators to use against the psyllid population, and growing and releasing sterile psyllids -- a successful way to control fruit flies -- has no effect because of the bug's ability to reproduce asexually.

Consumers prefer seedless fruit. Bees can and do turn seedless fruit into seeded fruit, which has led to controversy, with Paramount Citrus threatening to sue beekeepers whose bees pollinate tangerines and mandarin oranges and give them seeds. Beginning March 1, 2009, beekeepers must report the location of their hives to county agricultural commissioners so that growers can monitor their location and ask that bees be kept at least two miles from seedless fruit in southern San Joaquin Valley counties.

Vegetables. The US harvested 86,200 acres of fresh-market carrots in 2007, down from 111,380 acres in 1997Ñ almost 85 percent were harvested in California.

California's asparagus acreage continued to decline in 2009 as a result of competition from Peru, Mexico and China. China is the world's leading producer, harvesting 380,000 tons a year, Peru is second with 125,000 tons a year, and the US produces 44,000 tons a year. Peru grows asparagus on large farms that use drip irrigation year-round, generating yields twice those of California

Arax, Mark and Rick Wartzman. 2005. The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire. PublicAffairs

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