California citrus growers are not dealing with the drought conditions that have hit South Texas, but they have been dealing ever-tightening restrictions on water use.
“It’s becoming more onerous, in terms of water availability,” said Andrew Brown, a grower and director with the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual. “We’ve been more fortunate here on the east side of the valley, where most of the citrus belt is served by the Central Valley Project.”
Brown said a lot of regulatory involvement is unnecessary.
“There’s some groundwater regulations on the horizon that are going to be very onerous for all growers,” Brown said.
Water regulations may be the most daunting challenge California citrus growers face, said Alex Teague, senior vice president of Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira Co.
“That’s the big one,” he said. “So far, growers have been able to work around and obtain water on a short-term basis. With groundwater rules in particular changing rapidly, we will see where the costs go.”
Some growers have launched water-conservation programs and are reporting success.
“We’ve implemented a new organic cultural practices that has reduced our water use on some ranches by 50%,” said Scott Mabs, sales and marketing director with Porterville, Calif.-based Homegrown Organics Farms. “It has reduced our usage in huge ways, with some different things we’ve employed on the farming side.”
Dennis Johnston, a partner in Johnston Farms, Bakersfield, Calif., said the battle with regulators is a long, tedious affair, Johnston said.
“They hate ‘em,” Johnston said of the growers’ sentiments about the rulemakers. “The argument between the environmental group and the water-user group is historically, the animus is great.”
Relations likely won’t improve anytime soon, said David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus Association, Delano, Calif.
“It will continue to be a battle, especially in California, where supplies are very scarce,” he said. “We continue to work on conservation and efficiency of use.”
There has been enough water available, but the costs are escalating, said Bob Blakely, the California Citrus Mutual’s director of industry relations.
“We’re certainly following what’s been going on, but in terms of actual impact on citrus growers, it hasn’t been restricted significantly,” he said. “Of course, the cost has been going up, but it has been available.”
A lack of rainfall in the first half of the season hasn’t helped matters, Blakely said.
“We haven’t had any rain,” he said in late December. “We had some in late November, but December was virtually no rainfall. We’re about 54% behind normal. Last year, we had over 7 inches of rain at this point; we’ve had less than 2 inches this year.”
But, the effect on the fruit has been minimal, Blakely said.
“It hasn’t really impacted the fruit, but it probably has led to this long string of cold nights we had in December,” he said. “There was no moisture, so we didn’t get the traditional foggy weather that moderates the temperature. Fortunately, we have had good warming in the day.