Water & Drought Management Series: Pt 1 ~ AFT’s Outstanding Leaders

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With news about the water shortage saturating headlines the past several months, and farmers and ranchers forced to improvise and innovate to accommodate the forecasted drought for years to come, we’re excited to announce a Two-month series of blog features about Water Management & Drought.

To kick off the series, we’re starting with American Farmland Trust‘s picks of Outstanding Leaders, who are great examples of smart water management and stewardship across California. We hope these folks give you some practical ideas and inspiration for your own farm or ranch, while providing a glimmer of hope that it’s never too late to improve your systems!

Stay tuned for other stories in our series, which will be a mix of practical toolkits created by our partners and new tips from Cooperative Extension advisors, irrigation equipment suppliers, experienced vegetable and livestock farmers, and newer farmers coming up with their own innovative solutions.

If you’ve integrated new irrigation or water management solutions on your farm, let us know! We’d love to share your tips about what’s worked well for you.

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Water Series: Pt 2 ~ Livestock Strategies To Withstand A Drought: Options & Tips from Flying Mule Farm

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Written by Dan Macon, Owner of Flying Mule Farm & the Eat Local Program, UCCE Placer/Nevada County.

Founded in 2001, Flying Mule Farm is located in Auburn, California, tucked in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Our farm produces 100% grass-fed lamb and mutton, fiber products, and targeted grazing services. We operate almost entirely on leased pastures (about 300 acres of unirrigated annual rangeland and 15-50 acres of summer-irrigated pasture), which range in elevation from approximately 1,100 to 1,400 feet.

Our production cycle:

In this region and with our Mediterranean climate, the average annual precipitation is around 30 inches, with most of it falling as rain between November and April. Typically, we’ll receive a germinating rainfall (we need at least an inch of rain to germinate our annual grasses) in late October or early November. Our annual grasses then go dormant in early December until soil temperature and day length support renewed growth, usually around late February. Our annual grasses continue to grow through the springtime, usually reaching peak production in mid- to late-May. At that point, the annuals produce seed and die.

As our unirrigated rangelands die back each spring, we transition to irrigated pasture for our lamb production, as green forage is needed for weight gain. Lambs will typically remain on irrigated pasture through the summer and early fall, while we graze our ewes on stockpiled dry forage until just before turning the rams in with them in early October.

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Water Series: Pt 3 ~ Practical Tools & Resources ~ FarmsReach Water & Irrigation Toolkit!

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We’re happy to focus our third installment in our Water & Drought Management Series on the FarmsReach Water & Irrigation Toolkit. It provides checklists, info sheets, calculators and more detailed, practical references to help you better conserve water resources, improve water quality and efficiency, and learn more about water issues in California in general.

All of our Toolkit resources were recommended by our Featured Farmers, partners and the community. Below is a sampling of just 10 of the resources…We hope they provide some practical ideas and tools to start thinking differently about water management in your operation! And, be sure to check out the rest of the Water & Irrigation resources list, including more information on the Bay Delta Tunnels and Fracking.

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Water Series: Pt 4 ~ Checklist to Drought-Proof Your Farm

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Photo credit: CAWSI

The checklist below was first presented at the EcoFarm Conference in 2010 by Michael Cahn, irrigation and water resources advisor UC Cooperative Extension, Monterey County, on behalf of the California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative (CAWSI). Introductory text excerpted from a California Climate & Agriculture Network blog written by Kendall Lambert, Water Program Coordinator at Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF).

As we are all very much aware, California is now faced with a historic drought. Among other things, this means that farmers and ranchers will have limited access to surface water for irrigation, and many growers will not be able to sufficiently and sustainably substitute groundwater. To better prepare for water shortages like this one, growers can adopt on-farm ‘water stewardship’ practices to optimize agricultural production, achieve economic savings, and boost ecological and human health benefits.

So what can farmers do? Below is a practical checklist presented at EcoFarm in 2010 (it can also be found in our Water & Irrigation Toolkit):

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Water Series: Pt 5 ~ Drought Adjustment Strategies from Mendocino Organics

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The pastures of Mendocino Organics

Mendocino Organics, located at Heart Arrow Ranch in Redwood Valley, is owned and operated by Adam and Paula Gaska. This husband and wife team leases land from Golden Vineyards and raise grass-fed sheep, cows and a wide variety of vegetables. Since their start in 2008, they’ve grown their operation with an emphasis on ecological stewardship and feeding their local community. With 120 ewes, 25 cows and 1 bull, they have access to nearly 1,200 acres of rangeland for winter grazing in Redwood Valley, and another 60 acres of irrigated pasture in Potter Valley during the summer months.

During this drought, most farmers and ranchers are forced to adjust their operations and figure out how to make ends meet.  Mendocino Organics is no exception.

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Water Series: Pt 6 ~ Understanding Groundwater Management ~ Tips from UCCE Advisor, Allan Fulton

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Groundwater pumping in the Mojave Desert

Today we are featuring an important discussion about groundwater management. Allan Fulton, UCCE Irrigation and Water Resources Advisor in Tehama County, gives us important tips for drought-proofing the farm. His tips are framed with your farm and larger local community perspective in mind — public districts and agencies included. Everyone has a stake in the effort.

Yet, Allan suggests that farmers especially need to pay attention. To be implemented at a community level, many of his suggestions for groundwater management require individual farmers to understand the issues and decide whether they can support them in concept, and then engage in efforts to make them a reality.

Read on as Allan shares his tips and insight on the importance of better groundwater management during and beyond times of drought.

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Water Series: Pt 7 ~ Managing Energy & Lowering Costs with Irrigation ~ Tips from Derek Moffitt, Farmer & Rain Bird Sales Mgr

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Our Water & Drought Management series continues today with energy management tips from Derek Moffitt, olive grower, engineer and sales manager at Rain Bird. Believe it or not, irrigation pumping is the largest consumer of energy in most agricultural operations, and accounts for more than 5.5% of the total electricity load from PG&E. Every farmer deals with hidden costs throughout the farm, and so read on as Derek give us easy tips for making our irrigation systems more efficient, lowering energy expenses, and reducing water use.

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Water Series: Pt 8 ~ Drought Effects & Tips from Central Valley’s Lonewillow Ranch

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Lonewillow Ranch goats getting ready for milking

Our Water & Drought Management series concludes today with drought management tips from Lonewillow Ranch in Firebaugh, CA. John Teixeira, farmer and owner, shares his story and strategies for coping with persistent drought in the Central Valley region. Read on to learn how John has adjusted his business and why he thinks the government needs to reevaluate water rights to farmers.

As we move on to our next two-month-long series on Labor & Worker Safety, we will continue to monitor the drought in CA, and highlight stories affecting the farming community. If you’ve integrated new irrigation or water management solutions on your farm, let us know! We’d love to continue to share your tips and insights.

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