The Reuters news service is running a story about a California almond farmer who spent $7 million to grow a very different crop: water.
With the San Joaquin Valley into its third year of drought, this farmer spent money to essentially turn his land into a giant rain barrel, holding water that he can use to irrigate his orchard and that of other nearby farmers. But Reuters says that if the area has three more years of drought, even this farmer’s strategy will not be enough. The drought emergency already declared in the state is likely to cost it thousands of farm jobs and billions of dollars in lost farm product sales.
At Upper Meadows Farm, we rarely face the same dire water situation as California, which some attribute to climate change. Even so, I manage my water use with the same intensity with which I manage the rest of the farm. I consider a living soil the foundation of my farms’ health. Here we have hydric soils that remain submerged at times, sandy soils that drain quickly, clay soils that retain water to some extent and stoney, gravelly soils that are somewhere in between. All of which are complex communities of life from microscopic in size to trees and cows. Water is vital to all and certainly the most dynamic input for growing plants and animals. Nothing does well with too much or too little water. Balance is critical to ensuring the best possible production.
I use drip irrigation in the fields that we irrigate. This is accomplished by laying out a specially formed plastic tape that allows water to drip out along the length of the line. This puts the water we use right at the soil location the plants are growing in and is as much as 90% efficient. I manage the irrigating that I do to maintain an optimum soil moisture for the plants we grow. One inch of water over one acre is slightly more than 27,000 gallons. By using drip irrigation we save tens of thousands of gallons during the course of a season.
The water that we use to wash the veggies is captured in cisterns I installed and reused on the fields as irrigation water even furthering the efficiency of our water use. The surface water is also of great concern and so our livestock are managed to protect the quality of our brooks. The White Brook that runs through our farm (more than 1/2 mile) flows into the Delaware. It has always tested at the highest quality of surface water identified in NJ.