California strawberry growers deal with drought

02/13/2014 10:37:00 AM
Tom Burfield

Lack of water may well be an increasing problem for Southern California strawberry grower-shippers in the not-too-distant future.

As of Feb. 10, Oxnard reported only about 1.3 inches of rain since July 1 compared to an average of about 8 inches. No rainfall was predicted in the 10-day forecast.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the state in January.

A high-pressure ridge has deflected storms headed down the California coast before they get to the Oxnard growing area, said strawberry salesman Doug Lowthorp of Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard.

“So far this month, it’s been nicer than our summers,” he said in late January.

“We’re all sick of it,” he said. “We need a winter, especially because of the dire situation we have with water.”

The effects of the drought are visible everywhere, said Craig Moriyama, director of berry operations for Naturipe Berry Growers Inc., Salinas, Calif.

“We’re really noticing it up in the northern parts,” he said, where lack of rain has led to salt buildup in the strawberry fields.

Lowthorp said Deardorff is fortunate because there is a reservoir on the ranch where its strawberries are grown.

There were three days recently when the local water district wouldn’t allocate the company any water, he said.

“This year we really used (the reservoir).”

Things could get worse next year if rain doesn’t materialize.

“If we do not get a considerable amount of precipitation between now and the end of our rainy season, you’re going to see some changes,” Lowthorp said. “You’re going to see some fields go fallow because you just don’t have the wherewithal to plant and water.”

Note on clarification: Craig Moriyama said "salt buildup" in the soil is a more applicable term to describe the salinity of the area. That includes the Salinas area, although there has been some around Watsonville and even Oxnard, but it's not as obvious in the south. Recent rains have helped somewhat, he said.

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Charlie Peters    
February, 13, 2014 at 12:06 PM

Dr. Stan’s California water supply opinion

Denise Gutzmer    
Lincoln, NE  |  February, 13, 2014 at 12:15 PM

Could you be more specific about where salt intrusion in strawberry fields has been a problem?

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