Farmers eye USDA drought relief

FRESNO, Calif.

An underground well serving a Fresno county almond orchard was so dry water had to be trucked in to irrigate the young trees. Farmers and ranchers hurt by the worsening drought learned US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack made 20 million dollars available for water conservation assistance.

Vilsack explained, "It will be focused on improving irrigation efficiency, providing producers resources to stabilize fallowed ground that can't be farmed and to assist with watering facilities and grazing distribution."

Farmers must apply for assistance through the National Resources Conservation Service by March 3rd.

The funds could help farmers put in drip irrigation and help them disc unused land. But as more wells run dry Sanger grower Manuel Cunha believed the money could be better spent on well drilling.

Cunha said, "I'm hoping that USDA will give NRCS that flexibility to say Mr. Farmer you can use it for helping deepen your well. You can use it to help put a bigger pump on."

Congressman Jim Costa of Fresno called the USDA conservation funds the first of several steps to assist farmers. He said, "It will give us more tools to be able to try to mitigate this catastrophe."

But Cunha said the funds don't address farmers' immediate needs. "The farmers are going to jump on something that has real meaning, not that this doesn't but I think our farmers aren't gonna jump on this if it's only used for drip irrigation."

Valley growers would like to see President Obama declare a drought disaster in California. They say that would free up more federal funds and help move more water to farms.

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