Spike in Produce Prices Caused by Water Shortage

August 6, 2008 10:36:58 PM PDT
This fall you can expect a big spike in lettuce prices. The shortage is blamed on the drought and limited irrigation in western Fresno County.It has been a painful summer for farmers and for those who make a living in the fields.

These almond trees are withering away without water to keep them alive. Some growers on the west-side are struggling to keep their permanent crops irrigated. Much of the cotton crop here has been abandoned. There's not enough water to bring it to harvest.

Sarah Woolf, Westlands Water District: "You'll see some of that cotton that has dried up and actually due to fuel costs, they haven't disced the fields. They've just let them die."

The cantaloupe fields in Mendota aren't as busy this summer because of water cutbacks. Woolf says district-wide ... one-thousand people have lost their jobs. Fresno County Ag Commissioner Jerry Prieto says crop losses have already topped 86-million dollars.

Jerry Prieto, Fresno County Ag Commissioner: "People need to recognize that because Ag is so huge here that anytime you have a downturn Ag economy it impacts the economy in general."

During portions of the spring and fall harvest ... Huron produces 95-percent of the head lettuce consumed in the U.S. But without a consistent supply of water, companies have drastically reduced this year's fall crop.

Sarah Woolf, Westlands Water District: "That's about 75-percent of our acreage. And so that's significant. There will still be lettuce on the shelves. It'll just be a lot more expensive."

Huron residents rely on not only the steady work but the business the influx of workers bring.

Jerry Prieto, Ag Commissioner: "Local communities that are in those areas being impacted, that's the first opportunity for someone to spend money - in those little towns. If they don't have the money to spend it doesn't happen and it starts impacting them."

Ag jobs go where the water flows. Farmers say many laborers and their families have moved on to follow the harvest. Some are now working the fields of Washington and Texas.

On Wednesday Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson will take part in a bus caravan to Sacramento. The group wants to show support for the governor's plan to put a water bond on the November ballot.

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