Water crisis threatens dairy feed supply

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The water crisis in California continues to worsen. Farmers up and down the state are affected; some have been forced to fallow their land due to a lack of water. Unemployment rates have been reported to have reached in the upwards of 40 percent in some parts of California.

Although this is the third year that California is faced with a drought, the lack of water is being pushed to extremes due to a court case won by environmentalists to protect Delta Smelt. Smelt are 2-inch fish that live in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta; they run the risk of being sucked into pumps and killed when water is pumped from the Delta to the rest of the state.

The lack of water is having a direct impact on the dairy industry. Feed availability could be in very short supply to nonexistent by this fall, says Tom Barcellos, a dairy producer from Tipton, Calif., who farms more than 1,800 acres.

Barcellos says that farmers who grow corn and sell it to dairy producers are already leery because the prices for corn are 50 to 60 percent of last year's. Add on top of that the increasing expense for water if it is available to them. “Do you take the risk and plant a corn crop with hopes that commodity prices improve, hoping you cover your costs, or do you plant something else, or leave your land fallow?” In some cases, Barcellos says farmers may plant Sudan or Milo as an alternative to corn. Milo and Sudan can handle the stress of little to no water. Barcellos expects to see a lot of cropping changes.

One thing is for sure: Barcellos says farmers who are harvesting wheat for grain are not going to double-crop back with corn.

And, Barcellos says, if there is no feed out there to buy, there is no amount of money that is going to buy feed that doesn’t exist.

Barcellos says he is fortunate, since he supplies his own needs and sells 50 percent of what he grows. But, others who don’t have their own indigenous, home-grown feed supply are going to be in a bad situation.

The $64,000 question is, what do you do when there is no feed to buy? asks Barcellos.

To read an item by National Public Radio on the water situation in Californiaclick here.




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