Drought Forces Changes for Kings County Farmers

May 12, 2009 11:23:17 PM PDT
The Kings County Crop Report sheds interesting insight in how the Valley is dealing with an on-going drought.In 2008 Ag production was worth 1-point-8 billion dollars in Kings County. That number was down one-point-6 million dollars from the previous year.

Wells full of cobwebs and dry canals can be found throughout Kings County. Many farmers here have been forced to change their cropping patterns because of water issues. Wheat has jumped ten spots and is now Kings County's seventh most productive crop. Wheat grain was worth 74-million dollars to Kings County.

Kings Co. Ag Commissioner Tim Niswander said, "We found they planted wheat in the winter months because it requires much less water to grow and hedging their bets on not having any water at all, they figured get something off the ground by growing wheat."

Wheat is one of the alternative crops farmers here are growing instead of cotton, cotton remains the county's number-two crop at 140-million dollars but its acreage has steadily dropped over the years.

"Cotton is becoming less and less affordable with the amount of water it takes to grow cotton. It just seems real profound when I see 200-thousand acres of cotton statewide and I think we used to grow that much just here in Kings County," said Niswander.

High feed costs and low milk prices have hurt the dairy industry but milk overwhelmingly remains the county's top product at 670-million dollars.

"We maybe lost 2-3 dairies and they're kind of medium sized to small dairies," said Niswander.

Niswander has also noticed more growers have ripped out permanent crops like tree fruit to grow vegetables which don't need as much water.

Kings County ranked 8th in the country last year in Ag production, six-percent of its cropland lies in the troubled Westlands Water District ... where farmers are getting just 10-percent of their irrigation water.

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