Lack Of Water Taking California Farmers Into Uncharted Territory

Ian Schwartz,  CBS Sacramento, May 1, 2014

SUTTER COUNTY (CBS13) – For months farmers have only been able to guess how the drought would affect them, but this year’s planting season brings bad news. Not only are the crops hit hard, other businesses are feeling the pain. 

Each year the land is worked in the spring, being readied for the rice crop harvest in the fall. But this season, farmers are in uncharted waters.

“I’ve never gone through a year like this with cutbacks like this and uncertainty,” said rice farmer Nicole Van Vleck, who’s been growing rice near Yuba City for 20 years.

The drought’s grip is seen from rice plot to rice plot.

“This dry one won’t be planted this year,” said Van Vleck. She says nearly half of her rice fields will sit idle since the state cut back how much water she’s allowed to use.

And this isn’t the only spot where farmers are sacrificing crops because of the drought.

“And we expect in the valley that there will be about 100,000 acres less of rice grown this year. Normally there’s about 500,000,” said Van Vleck.

While the water didn’t trickle down the Sierra Nevada much this winter, the drought’s effect is tricking down to people who rely on farmers’ business.

“Our sales from last year to this year in February and March were down 50 percent, so it was major,” said John Miller, who works at Valley Truck and Tractor.

Miller sells large equipment to farmers. He says if they are planting less, it means they’ll be less likely to shell out money for new tractors. He says a dip in sales caused him to lay off five people and keep a close eye on overtime.

Miller says he’s just one business. He believes there are dozens of others that won’t be spending as much as the drought eats up land and profit.

“Those people can’t take their wives and families out to dinner, they can’t buy new shoes. So it really impacts the whole community,” said miller.