Stop if you’ve heard this before: California is in the grip of a severe drought. Again. Now the federal government is stepping in to help. To assist California, which is the nation’s largest food supplier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently declared a drought disaster for 50 counties. That makes growers throughout the state who have been struggling with parched conditions eligible to seek federal loans.
Growers of some of San Diego County’s most lucrative crops — flowers, nursery plants and exotic fruits — can now get federal cash to cover some coronavirus-related losses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s initial relief program left out these small farmers who contribute significantly to the county’s nearly $1.8 billion agricultural economy.
The department expanded the program to include more specialty crops in August and announced last week it would make an additional $14 billion available to farmers through mid-December. Growers could begin applying for the relief this week.
Hannah Gbeh, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, called the federal aid “the lifeline our producers need to help weather the economic challenges that came along with the pandemic.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it will be providing more than $2.5 million for California water investments through the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program. USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand noted that the department will be investing $281 million for 106 projects in 36 states and Puerto Rico to improve water and wastewater infrastructure.
In recent weeks, we’ve been sharing stories of how California agriculture is adapting under the current circumstances stemming from COVID-19. I have a few more for you here today.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic reverberate through California agriculture, according to speakers at an online forum. During a virtual town hall hosted by chairs of the Legislature’s agriculture committees, economists said changes in diets and buying habits have disrupted every aspect of the farming business. One analyst said agriculture faces a “one-two punch” from the pandemic shutdown and a slow economic recovery.
Ryan Indart says he may have to kill off some of the sheep at his east Clovis ranch this fall. With restaurants shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic, he has no market for his animals. When a new flock arrives in October, he won’t have enough space in his pasture if his current flock is still there.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday a $3.6 million program to help farms and food banks stay afloat, coupled with a philanthropy pledge of $15 million. That promise came on the heels of a much larger federal aid package of $19 billion for farmers and ranchers across the country.
Farmers across the San Joaquin Valley echoed Indart’s concern.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be investing more than $1 million in California this fiscal year for wildfire mitigation and improving water quality. The efforts are being made possible through the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership. The Partnership allows the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to work with farmers and landowners in implementing conservation and restoration projects on a substantial scale.
The Coachella Valley Water District faces hefty challenges each day: providing water for more than 1,200 ag customers on 65,000 acres in a desert environment.
The water district serves San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties and nine cities.
“I would say managing our water on a long-term basis, optimizing our Colorado River water and groundwater and using them as efficiently as possible are major priorities for us,” said Katie Evans, director of communications for the district.
The Coachella Valley’s farmland is one of the largest contributors to the local economy, known for its dates, citrus fruit, grapes and bell peppers. More than two-thirds of local farmland is irrigated in part with Colorado River water delivered via the Coachella Canal.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development California State Director Kim Dolbow Vann on Monday, Sept. 23 announced more than $5 million in investments for three infrastructure improvement projects in California.
“We know that in order for California’s rural communities to continue to prosper, it is essential they have safe, reliable infrastructure,” said Vann. “USDA’s programs are addressing those needs and today’s investments will help improve water or wastewater systems in three communities.”
Funding is provided through USDA Rural Development’s Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program, and can be used for drinking water, storm water drainage and waste disposal systems for rural communities with 10,000 or fewer residents.