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


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.

Lonewillow Ranch, a CCOF-certified organic farm, spans 90 acres. Certified organic for the last 25 years, over 15 acres of the farm is dedicated to grazing for pigs, chickens and goats. In addition to livestock, Lonewillow produces vegetables such as garlic and heirloom tomatoes, tree fruit, wheat and hay for a nearby organic dairy. John Teixeria, owner of Lonewillow, has spent six years on the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) board, and has been a past president of the CCOF Fresno-Tulare Chapter, and board member and past president of Slow Food Madera.


John Teixeira about to make farm-fresh sausage

The farm is located in Firebaugh, CA, about 45 miles northwest of Fresno, and relies on well and canal water for pasture irrigation. The water is applied using drip and sprinkler systems. On average, Firebaugh receives 7 to 9 inches of annual rainfall; however, this year they’ve had less than 2.5 inches. This drought has affected Lonewillow Ranch in more ways than one.

Loss of cover crops and seed-saving

Lonewillow Ranch always has a cover crop of alfalfa and grain growing during both the winter and summer months. This winter, John planted a cover crop in December to later serve as pig feed for January and February, but a cold snap, lack of water and a frost early in the month destroyed it. To deal with the loss, he had to purchase $3,000 worth of organic grain.

To make matters worse, he wasn’t able to plant another round of cover crop until the end of February, and now won’t be able to harvest any grains until the end of May. He’ll spend an additional $1,500 on supplemental grain to get through the season (the market price of six pigs).

John has also always been able to save seed from season to season, and has never had to purchase any. This year, because his plants have been struggling with water and cold weather, he will be forced to buy seed. Not only will he have to pay for this seed, but he won’t be able to use his own varieties, which he prefers to do.

One positive thing in the midst of so many negative adjustments is that John still has a market for his meat, and can still demand a good price. He’s hopeful that even with a late cover crop, money spent on supplemental feed, and continued drought, he won’t lose too much profit. Time will tell.

An appeal to the government


San Joaquin River

One of his biggest concerns right now is the tension between agriculture’s water use and the many endangered species also being negatively effected by the drought. His farm relies on well water and canal water for irrigation, but the state is taking away water rights to the canals in order to mitigate the threats to endangered species.

John thinks farmers need to stand up and reclaim their water rights. He feels that the government needs to better acknowledge the importance of CA agriculture, and the livelihood of the agricultural community before the endangered species they have been prioritizing. Farmers and agriculture make up the backbone of California, and if they aren’t prioritized, the impacts will be seen by eaters across the globe. What do you think?

If you’re interested in discussing ways to get the government to prioritize farm viability over endangered species, John would love to hear from you!

John shares 5 Tips for dealing with the drought:

1. Always be cautious in expanding the herd. Planting feed for animals happens a year in advance, therefore if you don’t already have the feed, more mouths to feed is going to lead to serious problems.

2. Implement no-till practices and use cover crops. Decrease the amount you move around the soil because it increases the loss of moisture and organic matter. Use cover crops to retain your soil’s moisture and important nutrients.

3. Invest in crops that are more water-resistant. Find the cover crops that don’t require much water (dundale peas, medic types, landoc vetch) and start to save these seeds to build up your seed stock.

4. Increase your prices to compensate for losses. Consumers across the country are going to start feel the effects of the drought on prices at the grocery store. Certain markets can bear price increases, so take advantage of them.

5. Don’t be afraid to reduce your stock when necessary. This might only be temporary, but be prepared to lose animals if there isn’t enough feed.

Thank you, John for sharing your story and advice! If you have questions for Lonewillow Ranch, visit their website and get in touch.

To find more resources on water quality, efficiency, conservation and more, see our Water & Irrigation Toolkit.  

If you happened to miss them, check out the other articles in our Water & Drought Management Series:

If you have questions, words of wisdom or other great tips for the many farmers dealing with the drought, visit FarmsReach Conversations and post a question or comment!

If you have other great resources to share, get in touch with me: evaa@farmsreach.com. We’d love to hear from you!

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