Drought conditions already hurting California growers

Local News

SUTTER COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — Harvest season is months away, but growers in Sutter and Yuba counties say they can foresee a disastrous crop because of troubling drought conditions.

Sutter County grower Sarb Thiara fears that his walnut orchard is a sign of bad things ahead. The trees have not been watered in several months after a well pump broke down. 

The drought has dried out the soil, so peach, prune, almond, pecan and walnut trees need even more water than usual. 

“We’re running the pumps more, the electric bills are higher, pumps are pumping from deep and pumps are drying up,” Thiara explained.

Pump companies are months behind in repairs because of the shortage of labor. 

Orchards need 3 feet of water a season. During this drought, they may need 4 feet of water when there is none to spare. 

There are plenty of orchards in the area that look healthy, but appearances can be deceiving. 

Walnut trees will see a lot less production because of the lack of water. 

“The meat inside is going to be shriveling up,” Thiara told FOX40. “The meat, it will not be worth anything.”

The quality of fruits like peaches, plums and prunes is expected to be way down as well, hurting the bottom line for growers. 

There has not been a significant heat wave yet this early in the year.

Orchard crops are the biggest part of Sutter County’s agriculture economy, along with rice. There are more troubles ahead come this winter because young trees are vulnerable to frost if there is not enough water in the ground. 

“You have to have enough moisture in the ground to keep the trees from not freezing the frost, otherwise frost will have frost burn on the top,” Thiara said. 

Already, the dry ground conditions have caused growers to advance water schedules with water that is already in short supply. 

“It’s going to be a tough row ahead of everybody,” Thiara said. 

Typically, there is no rain in the valley until fall arrives, which is well after harvest season. 

Growers say replacing dead or dying orchard trees is an expensive proposition because it can take up to five years for them to reach maturity and they require watering even though they are not producing fruit.

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