Written by David Castellon
Water was the big story the Valley at the start of 2017 and for the end of the year — but for different reasons.
After five years of the worst recorded drought in California’s history, the cycle finally broke with highly wet winter weather at the end of 2016 and into the start of this year.
That extra water fed thirsty crops and gave farmers and water districts the opportunity to fill ponding basins.
In addition, with water allocations available after years of zero to little, farmers were able to use surface water more and give their wells needed breaks.
Currently, cooler-than-average temperatures exist in the equatorial Pacific Ocean — a “La Niña” effect — that has been known at times to cause dryer, warmer winters in California, and so far that’s what’s happening a third of the way into the current rain season.
Some worry that unless the weather shifts after the start of the New Year, California may be heading into another drought year.
But Dan Munk, a University of California Cooperative Extension advisor in Fresno County, expressed optimism, saying, “Traditionally, most [Valley] rainfall occurs end of December to the first of March, so we have time to make things up.”
On the agricultural business front,
Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Madera counties each experienced declines in their annual overall sales of ag goods in 2016, and as a result it was announced this year after their annual crop reports came out that that Kern County — which actually had an overall uptick in sales thanks to a bumper pistachio crop — replaced Tulare County as the No. 1 ag county in in the U.S. based on sales.
But things may shift again in 2017, as early indications are that low prices paid for ag goods that hurt sales totals for the counties in 2016 generally rose this year, though not dramatically, overall.
Milk prices could be the big exception, however.
Labor also was a major issue on dairies, farms and ranches in the Valley, and 2017 may have been one of the toughest years ever in which to hire people, as the problem was by newly-minted President Donald Trump’s tough stand on immigration and federal lawmaker again not taking any hard action on immigration reform.
In some cases, Trump’s position and the visible support among Americans prompted fewer people to cross the U.S./Mexico border to seek ag jobs in the U.S., and there have been numerous reports over the year of immigrant workers — even some here legally — opting to stay home over fears that they might get caught up raids at farms and other businesses.
As such, some farmers found themselves scrambling to hire workers to tend to and harvest crops — a problem aggravated by spring activities starting late due to heavy rain earlier in the year.