Despite the declaration of a drought emergency by California Gov. Jerry Brown, most California Westside melon growers say they’ll be able to get by this year, and some even have boosted their acreage.
Melons have an advantage over some other crops that Del Mar Farms in Patterson, Calif., grows because they don’t require large amounts of water, said Brian Wright, sales manager.
“Because of where we’re located and the wells we currently have, we’re actually able, even with the drought, to increase our production by hopefully 10% over last year,” he said.
Tom BurfieldKirschenman Enterprises Inc. irrigates watermelons with water from a reservoir in a watermelon field. President Wayde Kirschenman says the company should have enough water this year from the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District and from wells on its property, but he says he's "nervous" about the water prospects for next year.The company’s processing tomatoes in Firebaugh, Calif., weren’t as lucky.
“We don’t have one acre (of tomatoes) in the ground,” he said.
Del Mar Farms eliminated its tomato program to provide water for its permanent crops, like almonds and walnuts.
In Bakersfield, Calif., at AndrewsAg Inc., chief executive officer Mike Andrews said he has canceled the company’s cantaloupe and honeydew programs this season because of lack of water.
He said he’ll reinstate the programs in the future if the water situation improves.
Steve Smith, co-owner of Turlock Fruit Co. Inc., Turlock, Calif., said he doesn’t see any major changes in acreage of cantaloupes or honeydews in California this season.
“The difference is, the water is much more expensive,” he said, and growers are more careful about how they allot their water.
“Melons are a very low water-use crop,” said Steve Patricio, president of Westside Produce Inc., Firebaugh, Calif.
Because of that, some growers actually have increased cantaloupe acreage, he said, since they can grow two acres of cantaloupes with the amount of water it would take to grow one acre of cotton, for example.
“There will be no shortage of California cantaloupes this summer,” he said. “There will be promotable supplies of California cantaloupes.”
But, he added, “the likelihood of a glut or oversupply is greatly diminished.”
A similar situation exists for honeydews, he said.
As of the first week of June, Kirschenman Enterprises Inc., Edison, Calif., was doing OK with its watermelon crop, but president Wayde Kirschenman said, “We’re pretty nervous about the future.”
The company was having problems with some of its wells, but not where its watermelons are growing.
“You’re going month to month right now because you really don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
“You hope that it holds out. Right now, it’s holding out for us.”
Growers are trying not to waste water and to get by using as little as possible, said Steve Couture, partner in Couture Farms, Huron, Calif.
As a result, he expects to see reduced bloom this season and a smaller number of melons per plant, though he said both those conditions also could be affected by other climatic conditions, as well.
V.H. Azhderian & Co. Inc., Los Banos, Calif., is seeing slightly less outside grower acreage because of the drought, but general manager Berj Moosekian has not seen any major changes because of water shortages.
In some cases, he has been able to trade water from areas with ample supplies to other areas that are facing shortages.
“Nobody has tremendous supplies that I’m aware of,” he said.
All growers seem very concerned about next season if the state suffers another dry year.
“People have been preparing for these zero-water years, and they can deal with it,” Patrichio said. “But if the drought continues, next year will be a whole other problem.”
“We have enough water to maintain the same program this year,” he said. “Next year could be tough if it doesn’t rain.”