When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a drought in June, Californians were told to take shorter showers and use less water on their lawns. But for farms in California and Yolo County, the challenge of dealing with less water is even greater.
One such farm is Good Hummus, a 20-acre farm located in the Hungry Hollow area of Yolo County. In the 33 years that owners Annie and Jeff Main have been running the farm, they have seen good seasons and bad, plentiful harvests as well as disappointing ones. With the water supply running low, the pair have made some changes to the way they get water to their crops.
The Mains are both UC Davis graduates. Annie studied renewable natural resources while her husband Jeff was a civil engineering student, and the two were part of the group that helped start the Davis Farmers Market.
“We use ground water, so we pump that up,” Annie said. “Since it hasn’t rained since February, we’re paying for more electricity to get the water up and out of the wells.“
The veteran farmers are used to a wetter spring season, and the dry months since February have forced them to irrigate sooner than usual.
“We usually don’t start until April or May, but this year we started months earlier,” she said.
The farm has always been conscious of the way in which they irrigate their crops, Main said.
“We never irrigate in the middle of the day – always early morning or night, because we don’t want it all to evaporate,“ she said.
In the past, the farm utilized a sprinkler system for irrigation. Now, the Mains use drip irrigation, a system where a hose with holes punched in it is run through the crops, allowing for a slow soak that gets the water straight to the roots.
Although drip irrigation increases water efficiency, it can be more fragile than the sprinklers.
“A worker was picking some of my lemon thyme and when he went to cut the plant he cut the hose accidentally, so we had to change that one out,” Main said.
The new system required more labor hours for instillation, and the hoses need to be changed about once a year due to cracking and wear, but Main said that the costs haven‘t made a noticeable difference.
Such drip irrigation systems are recommended by state officials.
“Because low volume irrigation systems are easy to operate and can achieve a high degree of uniformity, they are well suited to drought strategies such as deficit irrigation,“ said irrigation specialist Larry Schwankl in an article published by the California Department of Water Resources.
Although the unusual weather patterns have presented some irrigation problems, Good Hummus has also benefited from the dry, cold winter.
“Fruit trees need a certain number of cold hours in the winter,” Main said. “And since it didn’t rain too much we didn’t see much fungus, so the crops are great this year.“
Due to the cold winter, the farm was able to plant their winter crops later than usual, meaning that they are still bringing winter crops to the Farmers Market.
“We get to have almonds, apricots and nectarines,” Main said. “Two years ago, we lost all of our apricots because of the rain.“
The owners of Good Hummus do their best to work with what the weather gives them, and try to stay conscious of how they use their resources, especially the increasingly precious water.
“We want to cut back [on water use],” Main said. “But if you do [too much], the crops die.“
Though California has faced two consecutive years of low rainfall, farmers like the Mains are making due with what they have and getting by until the next rain.
ALI EDNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.