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Farmers in California destroying own crops because there's not enough water to keep them alive

Idaho Wheat Harvest
Posted at 7:25 PM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 19:25:37-04

It's a problem that's affecting many farmers. Eventually, a lack of water and fallowed crops will be a problem that impacts what produce you'll find at your grocery store.

Standing in the very field he just destroyed, Joe Del Bosque said it was a painful decision to make.

"The crop in that video is asparagus is right here behind me. It is organic asparagus, and it was six years old, and asparagus here lives to 9 or 10 years old."

Del Bosque said he doesn't have the water he needs.

"It feels terrible," Del Bosque said. "First of all, it's a producing field. It could have gone another three years, but what hurts is we had about 20 people working this field, and we have to tell them there's no work for them next year."

Joe owns Del Bosque Farms, which is situated in California's Central Valley.

"Because this asparagus uses more water than melons, I decided to destroy this one and save the water that would have gone to this field for the melons."

Del Bosque tells us he's "just a farmer," but in reality, he's been farming since the 1980s.

He grew up on this land, and presidents have sought out his knowledge. Former President Barack Obama visited in 2014 as drought was a problem back then too.

"You don't see drought as a natural disaster where something is falling, cracking open, or washing away what you see out here in a drought is nothing," Del Bosque said. "Bare land. No crop, no water, and no people are working. It's just silence. That's what a drought is here, no food. It's deafening and disheartening."

Del Bosque says you'll notice it in the stores.

This is yet another drought year for California, and it highlights the state's complicated water system.

"Water service contractors, agriculture contracts are at zero, and our municipal and industrial for cities are at 50%," said Ernest Conant, the Regional Director for the Great Basin Region of the Bureau of Reclamation. "The bureau of reclamation operates in 17 western states, and its primary mission is to deliver water and produce power while economically complying with environmental laws."

It's the Bureau that decides who gets what amount of water and when.

It's a confusing and complicated job. There are contracts and water rights, some of which date back to the Gold Rush Days.

"The problem is for the economy to operate, there has to be some certainty of expectations as to what water supply is available," Conant said.

In drought years, he says, they do what they can to help farmers like Del Bosque get the water transferred from other places.

He says the Federal and State Governments are working on repairing canals and building additional reservoirs, but it's at least five to 10 years from happening, and he says they have no choice but to abide by that time frame.

Water diversion for environmental reasons is also a challenge because it takes water away from farms to support wildlife.

Del Bosque says farms and people will have a significant problem on their hands if water systems and processes are not improved upon, especially as this isn't the first.

It certainly won't be the last drought in California.

"We've got to keep this agriculture industry in California alive the rest of the country needs the food we produce here," Del Bosque said.