California Drought May Create Water Crisis

drought_cracked earthCalifornia is experiencing one of its driest years in history, and growers all over the state are searching for the best way to handle higher water costs and possible water use restrictions.

In February, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency and called on residents to voluntarily decrease their water use by 20 percent. Federal officials announced that farmers would not receive water this year from the federally run Central Valley Project, which serves farms, homes and industry in California’s Central Valley, as well as the San Francisco Bay Area. State officials have reported that 17 communities are in danger of running out of water in the coming weeks.

As water rates climb and the need to water plants increases, for many growers the biggest challenge has been the growing cost of doing business. With residents being encouraged to cut back on their individual water use, growers have the added challenge of communicating to their customers that conservation doesn’t have to mean sacrificing lush landscaping.

The High Cost Of Watering

Eric Anderson, owner of Anderson’s Seed Co. in Escondido, Calif., is slightly optimistic. He says it’s still early and it’s hard to guess how the remainder of the season will go.

“There’s still a chance there’ll be enough water for use and that restrictions won’t be too draconian,” he says. “The worst part — the short term effect — is that I have to water in the winter time. It gets expensive. It’s increasing my costs.”

Typically, water rates go up in low water years and don’t come down when the region is out of drought.

“I’ve kind of been struggling just to meet the higher water costs (since the last drought in 2009),” he says.

Anderson says 20 years ago, water was $400 per acre foot, and now it averages over $2,000 per acre foot.

“I never (used to) worry about the cost of water. Now, after labor and rent, it’s my third highest operating cost,” he says.

Russell Fritz, owner of Grow Master Nursery in San Marcos, Calif., and president of the San Diego County Flower and Plant Association says the drought hasn’t hit his operation yet, aside from the increased cost. But he anticipates the high price to be just the beginning.

“We all need to be proactive in our approach on how to handle the water crisis, and it will need to start with being more efficient in our application methods,” Fritz says.

Some Growers Will Reduce Production

Growers are trying to conserve water currently, but there is a catch.

“Growers have been asked to conserve water in the past,” Fritz says. “Subsequently, after the growers have done their part, the following year we have been put on water usage restrictions, which makes it very difficult to continue the same production.”

“We’re well aware of where the government is going to take it,” Fritz says. “If we cut 30 percent this year, they’re going to tell us to cut 50 another percent next year.”

In the last drought, Anderson had to reduce production to meet a mandatory 30 percent cutback for those in agriculture.

“If the drought continues, it will probably be in the cards for us next year,” he says. As of now, water districts in areas south of Sacramento down to Bakersfield are currently looking at no allocation of additional water from both state and federal government. It could mean that some growers and nurseries may resort to shutting down some of their many operations, just to try to keep their doors open for business.

One solution is to access groundwater. Most operations have access to groundwater for pumping, but it comes at a higher price and the quality is not as good.

Switching To New Crops

Prolonged lack of water is taking its toll on the California landscape and may make some crops too expensive to grow.

“As you go through California, everything is incredibly dry,” Anderson says. “There’s no grass in rangelands. A lot of reservoirs that are usually filled at this point are almost empty. My problem now is that some of the crops I grow probably do not make sense anymore at the higher water costs.”

Anderson says he is looking to convert to other higher-valued, lower-water-use crops, and at the same time, raising the price of the other crops.

“I will have to make some hard decisions this summer regardless of what crops I grow,” he says, adding that he plans to increase production of lower-water-use crops such as cyads and agapanthus.
Altman Plants in Vista, Calif. has had cactus and succulents as a core part of its production the entire time its been in business, says owner Ken Altman.

“Around eight to 10 years ago, we added an emphasis on all kinds of drought tolerant plants, including many that have not been introduced or used commonly in the industry,” says Altman. “These programs are now timely and getting lots of attention.

Drought tolerant crops are also a staple at Rocket Farms in Salinas, Calif.

“Fortunately, one of our flagship crops, phalaenopsis orchids, requires very little water and we continue to promote this product and its benefits in the marketplace,” says Jason Kamimoto, vice president of sales and marketing at Rocket Farms.

Using Smart Water Techniques

Armstrong Growers has made water saving a priority over the years and is not reacting to the ups and downs of drought talk.

“Our facilities utilize the best practices in saving water. Drip irrigation, water booms and reclaiming all run off to be recycled are standard operating procedures,” says James Russell, vice president and general manager of Armstrong Growers, which has three growing locations in California.

Altman captures and recycles the water in its greenhouses, with the exception of one site. The operation is investing in capturing all water on that 420-acre site, so it can be reused. Besides Altman’s own investment, the business has received grants from the Metropolitan Water District, the local water district (Western Municipal) and from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The effort should save 30 percent of the water on that site, Altman says.

For Rocket Farms, the rising cost of water, coupled with strains on supply, mean that the business continually considers its approach to irrigation and how it recycles all of its irrigation water at its Half Moon Bay property.

“Rocket Farms has been recognized in the past for its water conservation efforts, as well as our strong partnerships with the USDA and local water resource agencies,” Kamimoto says.

One of the ways Anderson’s business conserves water is by using drip irrigation. He uses one acre foot of water per month, and up to 1 1/2 acre feet in August.

Anderson says consumers in San Diego are familiar with his operation’s reputation for responsible water use.

“Drip irrigation was invented here,” he says. “We have a long history of informing people how we use water.”

Still, as the drought continues, communication with the public and careful water use remain key.

“The understanding that we live in a dry region means we should always be prepared to save water,” Russell says. “Education on how to water and how much water plants really need is what needs to happen.”

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Latest Stories

September 26, 2016

How Even An Overworked Plant Retailer Can Predict Consu…

Years ago, I read an article about Pottery Barn and the women who were making it a success. It was eye-opening to realize that a glossy, national chain like Pottery Barn used to buy products in a similar way garden retailers do. There was one section of that article that really caught my imagination. It was the profile of Celia Tejada, the woman who moved Pottery Barn from buying products from outside vendors to designing their own products. When Tejada joined Pottery Barn, she instructed her entire staff to begin keeping an eye out for things they liked, no matter how minor. So if they were at a restaurant with friends, or walking along a street and something caught their eye, they were to either buy it or photograph it and place it in a room set aside for these kinds of inspiration. When it came time to select themes for the […]

Read More
urban-outfitters-logo-feature

September 26, 2016

Terrain’s Parent Company Breaks Impass For Waterl…

There’s been a development in the stalled plans for a new Terrain garden store from Urban Outfitters on the former Waterloo Gardens location. In a letter to Easton Township, PA, officials, Urban Outfitters’ Chief Development Officer J. David Ziel says the company is removing a key element that had met strong resistance from the community around Devon Yards, its term for the development plan on the former Waterloo Gardens site. Devon Yards will no longer include a four-story apartment building in its “lifestyle center” project, Ziel wrote. But it will still include its third Terrain store, a large format Anthropologie, and several eateries. The planned apartment building had created friction with local residents, Mainline Media News reported back in April. While residents welcomed the retail aspects of the plan, they felt a large apartment building would change the character of the community. The developer who will work on the project, […]

Read More
Orius_June 2015

September 25, 2016

Peace Tree Farm Hosting Biocontrols Event In October

“Advanced Greenhouse Biocontrols for Ornamental and Vegetable Producers” will feature advice from biocontrol authorities Lloyd Traven and Suzanne Wainwright-Evans.

Read More
sbi-software-triumph

September 25, 2016

Greenhouse Software Suppliers Offering A Range Of New S…

Want to know what some of the leading software suppliers are doing to address the ever-evolving needs of their greenhouse customers? Here’s a brief update.

Read More
cannabis-lighting

September 24, 2016

4 Tips On Picking The Best Lighting System For Cannabis…

From energy use to maintenance, here are some suggestions from one expert on how to ID the best lighting system for your greenhouse.

Read More

September 24, 2016

Plantarium 2016 Honors Winning Novelty Varieties

Novelties at Plantarium 2016 were judged by an expert committee from the Royal Boskoop Horticultural Society.

Read More
steve-larson-bayer

September 23, 2016

Bayer Continues Its Shift Into The Ornamentals Market

The company has announced its 12 distributor partners, and also recently named Steve Larson — formerly with Color Spot Nurseries — as its ornamental specialist.

Read More
mukgenia-nova-flame-terra-nova-nurseries-feature

September 23, 2016

Growers Offer Advice On How To Grow Mukgenia ‘Nova Flam…

‘Nova Flame’ is best brought in as a summer or fall crop and bulked over the winter.

Read More
Employees separate the plants by stem count, bud development and height. “This process allows us to respond more quickly to specific requests from customers,” Van Wingerden says

September 22, 2016

AmericanHort Hosting Webinar On Overtime Rule Complianc…

The webinar takes place on Thursday, Sept. 29. AmericanHort is also throwing its support behind the Overtime Reform and Enhancement Act.

Read More

September 22, 2016

Peat Moss Supplies Look To Be Down In 2016

The annual harvest update from the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association calls for below-average numbers in several major production areas.

Read More
deutzia-yuki-snowflake

September 22, 2016

Allan Armitage Suggests Plants That “Even My Neig…

When the urge to garden strikes, every homeowner needs a few plants like these for their yard.

Read More
customer-base

September 21, 2016

6 Creative Ways To Expand Your Business

Marketing experts offer tips to help you catch the attention of new customers and grow your business.

Read More

September 21, 2016

Floriculture Industry Working To Solve The Whitefly Pro…

This summer, the floriculture industry has been faced with a dangerous new development — the detection of the Q-Biotype whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) in outdoor landscapes. It’s the first time that the Q-Biotype has been found in the U.S., outside of a greenhouse or wholesale nursery, since the pest was first detected on an ornamental plant in an Arizona greenhouse in December 2004. This year in Florida, there have been 47 detections of the Q since April, in retail nurseries and residential landscapes in 10 counties in Florida, from Miami-Dade to Duval County, primarily on hibiscus. Other hosts involved are crossandra, eggplant transplants, lantana, ficus, and porter weed. The detections have been in 17 retail nurseries, eight wholesale nurseries, 10 residential landscapes, and two agricultural fields. Other states have reported Q-Biotype detections this year, as well. The discovery of Q-Biotype whitefly in the landscape is troubling for the entire ornamentals industry, […]

Read More
led-toplighting-from-erik-runkle

September 21, 2016

How To Determine The Economic Viability Of LED Lighting

You can decide whether LED lighting is right for your operation by considering seven important factors that impact return on investment.

Read More
Starcom Plant Partner Enterprise

September 21, 2016

Greenhouse Growers Tackling Software Needs Head-On

Whether by working with proven technology experts or developing their own systems, many growers are looking to update their business software to allow for inventory management, streamlined production, and more.

Read More
perennial-plant-association

September 21, 2016

Perennial Plant Association Southern Symposium Takes Pl…

The symposium is a chance for growers and horticulturists to learn how to better navigate the challenges of extreme weather conditions, while still creating beautiful landscapes.

Read More
OSU ATI Greenhouse

September 21, 2016

Your Support Is Essential For Current And Future Studen…

September is back to school time, and that means renewed opportunity to support the young people who are electing to pursue careers in horticulture. I continue to hear from growers of all sizes, from all over the country, that there just are not enough qualified graduates of two- or four-year horticulture programs. We also need to be active in promoting careers in horticulture to those who are not aware of the opportunities available. There have been some great success stories in this area recently. At University of Florida (UF) last fall, Anna Ball and Dr. Marvin Miller of Ball Horticultural Co. joined UF’s Dr. David Clark in an introductory environmental horticulture couse that’s open to any major. After the class, the line of students waiting to talk with Ball, Miller, and Clark was out the door. It is so important, Ball says, for each of us, individually and collectively to […]

Read More
Workers

September 20, 2016

How California’s New Overtime Law Will Affect Greenhous…

Some growers say they will have to make hard decisions about worker benefits or the crops they grow. One thing is certain: the need to automate is now more critical than ever.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]