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Could more dryland farming be in California's future?


Table of Contents:

  • California farmers seem slower in adopting the same conservation tillage practices that hold soil moisture when compared to their counterparts elsewhere in the U.S.. Could water issues in California change that mindset?
’s “Thirsty West: The No-Water Way” is the latest in a string of popular press articles to suggest that California might be better off relying less on irrigated agriculture and more on dryland farming.

Generations ago, California settlers and residents established a system of water conveyance that allowed great cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco to be built and agriculture to flourish.

Modern irrigation paved the way for greater crop yields and the ability to feed a growing society that left the farm starting with the industrial revolution.

What would an article in the popular press be without a few gross misstatements, such as the oft-repeated meme that California agriculture uses 80 percent of the state’s water supply in an average year?

This is far from an average year. Still, agriculture typically uses about 43 percent of the water allotted while 46 percent is consumed by the environment. For California, that means much of that 46 percent is allowed to flow unimpeded to the Pacific Ocean.

Urban users consume the remaining 11 percent, according to the State of California.

With no surface water allotted to much of California agriculture this year, and the ever-shrinking ground water supplies, California agriculture will have a fraction of its typical annual supply of irrigation water for the few crops farmers can maintain.

We really do not know how much remains in underground aquifers, though it’s a safe bet to suggest “not enough.”

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