If you’ve ever been to Le Grand in the early spring, you’ve likely witnessed the sweeping vista of the snow covered Sierra Nevada just a short drive east of town. Unfortunately, for most of this past winter there was little snowpack. The view was, if anything, alarming. When there’s no snowpack, there’s very little water for family farms to grow the crops that our customers and consumers expect each summer from California.
One of our major customers recently asked “How is the drought affecting Live Oak and what should they expect this summer?” There’s no easy answer to that question. And, there’s reason to be concerned. After all, the stakes are high for our customers as California supplies 37% of the fresh tomatoes and 60% of the peppers produced in the United States.
There’s a great deal of debate in California on how to address the drought. For most California residents, they’ll face mandated water restrictions this year and will be required to reduce their water use or be fined. Agriculture isn’t immune to the cutbacks we’re all facing. At Live Oak Farms, we’ve witnessed our water allocation decline each year of the drought to where for the first time in our history, we’ll receive no water from the water projects that were designed to help growers cope with drought conditions just like those we’re experiencing.
For some years now, we’ve been aggressively implementing water conservation measures across our diversified farming operation. For our tomatoes and peppers, there’s no single conservation effort more effective than drip irrigation. For decades, conventional wisdom held that drip irrigation wasn’t possible on field crops like tomatoes, peppers, and alfalfa because there was no way a tractor could operate in a field laced with fragile drip lines. Now, tractors guided by GPS systems can work these crops without touching drip lines.
Today, 100% of Live Oak tomatoes and peppers are drip irrigated, allowing us to provide just enough water to maintain plant health. The picture tells the story – a healthy crop growing on much less water.
Drip irrigation allows us to spoon feed nutrients to optimize plant and soil health. Drip irrigation cuts water use by 50% as compared to the national averages. And our commitment to drip irrigation does beyond tomatoes and peppers as we’ve transitioned to drip irrigation for almonds and our cover crops. If you’d like to know more about our ongoing sustainability initiatives in the field, there’s more to learn here.
At Live Oak, we’re always looking for how conservation through innovation can be further incorporated into our family farming operations. After all, we’ve been farming around Le Grand for over 85 years and with a new generation of the family entering the family farming business, our intent is to continue growing quality vegetables for many years to come.