Facing drought, farmers plan for 'economic disaster'

As workers in California spend their days planting a field of melons…

Farmer Joe Del Bosque says he hopes he will have enough water to see the fruit of his labor.

A marketable crop is what he desperately needs. Especially since Del Bosque is leaving a third of his 2,000-acre farm, near Firebaugh, unseeded this year due to extreme drought.

"So, on this side, we have a field that's planted in melons about a week ago. It's going to develop and produce fruit about in August, {there'll be a lot of people working here harvesting these melons in August. Over here, we have a field that is not planted. It has no water, we won't plant nothing, you'll see no crops there. You'll see no people working there, and there'll be no food coming from this field this year.”

He’s not the only one leaving fields barren this year.

Many California farmers say they expect to receive little water from state and federal agencies that regulate reservoirs and canals. That makes it hard to plan for harvest season.

Del Bosque - who grows melons, asparagus, sweet corn, almonds and cherries - said his operation could lose more than half a million dollars in income, and leave many of his 700 workers unemployed.

"It's an economic disaster. We don't plant crops, we don't have jobs, we don't produce food. And as we saw during the pandemic, you know, this industry is essential for everyone. We work to feed everybody.”

He and other farmers say drought has been made worse by California's lack of investment in water storage infrastructure over the last 40 years.

Ernest Conant, Regional Director of the Bureau of Reclamation, says the agency has had to reduce water allocation to “effectively zero”.

"This year is the worst drought, the worst year since 1977... Runoff from our streams is more acute at times, we have less snowpack, it would appear, with changing climate change, and as a result, we need to build additional storage long term. We are pursuing several projects, as is the state of California, to develop additional storage. But you know, that's going to take a number of years to develop.”

But time is of the essence for farmers and farm workers, whose livelihoods rely on well-watered crops... which also contribute to a huge chunk of California's economy.