Valley Farmers Turning to Alternative Crops

Cotton used to be king but another crop is now being planted in its place. To keep making money farmers often must diversify. Water is such a precious resource farmers now focus on producing a crop per drop of water.

West side grower Mark Borba likes what he sees in his lush green wheat field. He says "One of the determiners of your yield is first the amount of seed you plant but probably more importantly the number of tillers."

The tillers are the offshoots which develop heads. Borba planted 1200 acres of wheat this year replacing some of the acreage where cotton once grew. He says "The reason there is that it takes half as many acre inches of water to grow wheat than cotton. So rather than have the land lay fallow growers decided to not plant cotton but wheat instead. so the wheat plantings now on the west side are larger than I've ever seen."

Some wheat fields were planted to serve as fertilizer for the next crop which would be planted. Mark Borba says "In fact, the field behind us is one of those that initially was going to be a cover crop which we would not harvest."

But consumer demand has turned wheat into a valuable crop. Cotton used to be the Valley's top crop but because of an international glut and low prices growers have found it tough to turn a profit. As a result cotton acreage has steadily decreased in the Valley. Kerman grower Paul Betancourt says "When I came here in 81 we were growing 1.2 to 1.5 million acres of cotton. Last year it was 600-thousand acres so it's a significant drop. This year we might not even make 300-thousand acres."

Wheat has provided local growers with a golden opportunity. Borba says, "Fortunately for us, wheat is in short supply worldwide as are most of the grains, soybeans and corn and so prices have gone to near historic highs."

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