Saturday, January 18, 2014

So a drought - what does it mean?

Yesterday a state of emergency was declared in California due to the horrible drought conditions. We are officially in a severe drought. But what does it mean to farmers and to consumers?

First, it is important to know that we have been in a drought for a couple years thanks to reduced winter rainfall. The severity of the drought has depended on your geography - it wasn't as terrible up north. But this winter we have had essentially no rain, most reports indicate only 10-15% of normal. This is really bad as this satellite comparison of the snowpack shows. Remember that 2013 was low too, we are just that much lower now.
Above visual from
As cattle ranchers, this is a huge problem. Cows need to eat 365 days per year. We can't choose to not feed them when water is short. No rain means no native winter feed grew for the cattle. Because of this most ranchers have been feeding their cattle hay this winter, so hay prices are up and there is less hay available. Now, we are looking at very limited water for the summer, which will mean we will have very little feed growing this summer.

Since cows need to eat, this means that people will have to sell cows to reduce the number of mouths they have to feed. There simply will not be enough to go around for the cows in California.
As an example, pictured below is a small field of winter hay that we planted this fall. I took this less than an hour ago. If you zoom, you will see a tiny bit of green. This is less than 10% of the field that actually grew. And the current height of this feed is actually too short for a cow to eat, so it serves no value. Normally a winter crop like this helps as both a cover crop and as feed for our cows. You can see nothing is covered this winter.

We are small farmers and yet this drought is having a huge impact on our farm. We will have less than half the amount of beef as normal for sale to our customers this year at the farmers market. Knowing the water situation was not good, we sold most of our young calves last month. Those calves can be fed in other states where they have more feed.
But we will soon be forced to sell more of our 'mother cows' (the ones who produce calves for us each year). We have been building our herd for close to 10 years now, so selling these cows is going to be difficult. 

So what will this drought mean to you? Here in California we are blessed with fantastic local food. You will see less of our California food this year. There just isn't enough water to grow it. Some areas of California will have their water reduced by 95% this year - that translates directly into less California food for you to enjoy. Food prices will rise and local selection will be limited. More of your grocery store options will be coming from out of the state and country.
Your home will also feel this drought. Water rates are on the rise for cities as they face shortages as well. You will be paying more for even your home water this year.

Finally we are at terrible risk for some devastating wildfires. Fire season starting in January instead of June is very bad news.

So, this is bad. Pray for it or dance for it or just hope for it but we need some divine intervention and water. And, conserve (more posts about how to conserve coming soon)!


neansai said...

Got to your post through Kate Campbell. Good to read about the drought impact...sometimes hard to fathom when you live in the city.

Shannon said...

Thank you for commenting. That is exactly why we wanted to share. I'll be sharing some inexpensive ideas soon about conserving water in your home that I hope will be helpful.