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California growers’ planting plans hinge on water and effects of pandemic

For California growers, a lack of rainfall so far this winter has clouded a 2021 crop outlook already complicated by market uncertainties created by the pandemic. As current precipitation levels are looking even drier than the 2014-15 drought years, Kings County farmer Brian Medeiros said he's already making decisions about what ground to fallow. He noted that if he does not receive surface-water deliveries and must rely on groundwater all year, it becomes cost-prohibitive to grow many of the field crops that have been core to his business.

Electricity rate hikes are expected to further raise the cost of growing many of his traditional crops if he must pump groundwater, Medeiros said. Even contracted crops such as corn nuts, which he grows for Kraft Heinz, may not be able to pencil out, he added.

Though the state's historical water issues weigh "heavily" on what crops and how many acres are planted, Matt Linder, who manages Western region sales for Sakata Seed America, said "the more concerning issue" is the pandemic's continuing impact on food service, with the sector still not fully serving and ordering products.

Though limited water supplies remain a key consideration for what farmers can grow, employee availability and cost also determine crop decisions. For this reason, Santa Clara County farmer Tim Chiala said his main focus has been trying to reduce crops such as small specialty peppers that require "a lot of excessive labor."



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