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Water Is the Word at Granddaddy California Farm Show

“Water.” That was the first word that probably came to mind for many attending The Colusa Farm Show this week. While rainfall has been scarce across California in recent years, there’s been no shortage of it this winter. 

Drought-busting heavy rains this week in fact made it hard to find parking in the swamped lots surrounding the Colusa fairgrounds. Parts of the show ground were a muddy mess. Some roads to town were closed due to flooding. The spillway for a nearby dam that holds precious water for the state and protects the Sacramento Valley from flooding had been damaged overnight. 

“Water.” That was the quick reply from John Kimura, a Yuba City farmer, when asked about the top issue on his mind these days. He thought a minute, and added, “Water and regulations.” His brother, Gary, in fact, had just had a chat with the California Highway Patrol at their show booth about the state’s new regulations, including those for tie-downs on trucks and trailers. 

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Kimura Brothers
“Water is the big issue,” echoed Lisa Humphreys, manager of the Glenn County Farm Bureau. 

She explained the state’s new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, another challenge for farmers.

Water is a big word in California these days for many reasons. 

While there is plenty of water in northern California now, thirsty southern California is demanding more of the north state flows that are used for irrigating crops around Colusa — rice and orchards, mainly. Last year, due to the lingering drought, some farmers were unable to receive their usual surface water supplies. On top of everything else, the recent, heavy rains threaten to damage orchards as the trees come out of dormancy. 

“Granddaddy of them all”

But water worries aside, farmers attending the Colusa show came mostly to look at equipment and socialize. Mud puddles and occasional heavy rain were no deterrent. 

The Colusa Show, the largest ag show in northern California, and in its 52nd year, is called the “granddaddy of them all” on the West Coast. It’s a must-see for northern California farmers but draws attendees from out of state as well. Bill Coleman and Rick Rice, for example, had journeyed more than 400 miles from Oregon to eye the new machinery. Coleman, a filbert grower, was taking a close look at nut-harvesting equipment that allows a two-person operation. 

The Colusa event is a showcase of an area that is a leader in the state’s rice, nut, and fruit production. Sunsweet Growers in nearby Yuba City is the world’s largest handler of dried fruits, including prunes, apricots, mangos, and more. 

“There are a lot of positive things happening here,” said Farm Bureau’s Humphreys. Specific industries are doing well. Almond and walnut prices are strong, if not record high. And, hey, after the drought, it’s good to see it raining.” 

Among the topics surfacing at the show this week: 

Solar has a sunny outlook.

“A few years ago, farmers didn’t want to be the first guy in line to buy solar equipment,” said Dean Swanson, a representative of Sunworks. The solar company has seen business nearly triple over the last three years. Solar adoption is helped by the fact that a 30% tax credit has been extended to 2019, Swanson said. For farmers and other businesses, the payback is three-and-a-half to four years. Solar panel prices, moreover, are at “rock bottom” right now. There are 1,200 solar panel manufacturers around the world, he said. “It’s a good time to buy. Anything with a meter on it can use solar.”

Help wanted!

Nationwide, there are two jobs available in agriculture for every new job seeker. In California, there are four jobs open, said Miranda Driver, CalAgJobs, an organization that works to connect farm businesses with employees. CalAgJobs deals mainly with plant science positions. But the need for skilled workers exists at all levels, she said. “Everyone who talks with us says they can’t find workers to pick peaches or work in the fields and orchards. Finding reliable labor has become very difficult,” Driver said. Thus, immigration policy is a “pretty intense subject” in rural California, she said. Farm Bureau is pushing the new administration not only to focus on border enforcement but also to help develop a legal agricultural workforce in the state. 

Drones on the rise.

One of the more popular presentations at the show Tuesday was expected to be on the use of drones in California agriculture. Scott Gregory, a remote sensing expert at Ag One Solutions, discussed using drones for mapping and remote sensing. Interest is high, but many farmers still are waiting to see the practical applications pan out, said Jim Bianchin, Vertical Sciences, Inc., a company providing data collection via drones. Farmers are starting to use drones to identify problem areas in their fields, Bianchin said. They can also use the technology to create drainage plans or identify irrigation issues, he said. 

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John Ray, Thomas Manufacturing
Organic ag adoption.

More and more farmers are lining up to buy organic fertilizer these days, said Jeff Delaguerra, a representation of True Organic Products. The fertilizers, both powder and liquid, are made from meat and bone meals, as well as fish wastes. Some 13% of growers in the Central Valley now are organic, more than double the number of a few years ago, he said. “In the Central Valley, if you’re not organic, you’re sustainable,” he said. “Farmers are increasingly becoming environmentally conscious.” 

Going nuts at harvest.

“This area is a great environment for the nut industry,” said John Ray of Thomas Manufacturing, which makes equipment for the nut and orchard industries. “The growers have really been successful in continuing to improve their yields.” The result: “We have to sell a lot more nuts,” says Jennifer Olmstead, marketing director of the California Walnut Board. For a look at what a walnut harvest looks like, visit: http://youtu.be/jEBQtIxi-Ik

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