Growers with land suitable for vineyards, or where vineyards have been pulled out, may plant wheat and corn for 2009, says Jeff Bitter, vice president of Allied Grape Growers.
“The guys who are looking longterm are now starting to ask me what varieties. What we really need are economically feasible contracts from wineries.”
At least wine sales are up, but maybe not for reasons some in the industry are crediting, according to Bitter.
“A lot has been made of the drought in Australia, but that hasn’t impacted the market perhaps as much as the exchange rate. With the dollar as weak as it has been, imports have slowed considerably. We’ve seen exports performing very well this year for California, and imports falling.”
Water availability dominates farming more than anything else.
“Growers are preparing for the worst,” says Vern Crawford, PCA with Wilbur-Ellis at Shafter, Calif. “They’re expecting they’re going to have to pump a lot more water next year. Some will probably abandon row crops in an effort to keep permanent crops alive. It’s not as bad here in Kern County as on the West Side and in Westlands Water District.”
The business of growing a crop is quickly turning into the business of selling water.
“There are growers who planted vines on marginal ground under micro-sprinklers and made deals this year with the row crop guys for their water,” Crawford says. “Some of the row crop growers ended up making more money selling their water than they would have made if they had farmed the ground.”