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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News

 

Food price spike coming...

Posted 3/05/14 (Wed)

A recent article in the Fresno Bee newspaper suggests that a problem that’s been talked about and debated for 10 years has finally become catastrophic.

Almost like the locust plague in the Bible, severe drought has enveloped the San Jouquin, Imperial and Central valleys and other fertile vegetable growing regions across California.

We’ve been hearing for years about California farmers’ legal battles over water rights. It’s now at a breaking point.

If that’s not enough, Gov. Jerry Brown has asked the Legislature for nearly $800 million to assist those communities whose drinking water supplies have already dried up or soon will.

Those of us who have spent any time in California know that drought is the rule not the exception during the summer months.

Those vegetable growing regions around Fresno, Modesto, Bakersfield, Merced, Tulare, Salinas, Sacramento, Stockton and even places on the coast like Oxnard and Ventura, are scrambling for solutions. It’s early March and Lodi has already seen temperatures in the 90s. That’s going to have a drastic impact on wine production since Lodi is known for its zinfandel varieties.

A nationwide report came out a month  ago suggesting milk prices will increase as much as 60 cents a gallon because of the lingering drought conditions affecting California dairy farmers.

A cost increase for fruits, vegetables and nuts are coming next, most likely in that order.

But rather than painting a doomsday scenario, we can all do our part to help circumvent this.

First, take it upon yourself to grow some of your own produce.

Throughout the history of North Dakota, families have had backyard gardens to supplement their food inventories. We can all do that once again, first, to save some money and second, to alleviate some of the pressure from the California vegetable farms.

Go to your extension office, get some information on canning and preserving, pick up some jars and can your tomatoes, pickle your cucumbers and preserve your berries.

Carrots, potatoes, beets and other root crops store well when refrigerated at the proper temperatures. Even flash freezing can be a huge benefit in the winter when all you have to do is go to your freezer and pick out a selected product.

Fruits are more difficult and North Dakota doesn’t have the infrastructure, nor the weather to support a bustling fruit industry like California has.

If we think of citrus, we get a lot of oranges and lemons from California. Florida also is a major producer, but if this drought continues, we will most likely see U.S. citrus prices skyrocket that will probably include your morning glass of orange juice.

Then, God forbid, we’d have to rely on foreign imports of citrus from places like Brazil, South Africa and worse yet, China.

This drought is also hampering pistachio, walnut and almond producers some of whom have given up. There is no more water for irrigation. The mountain snow pack is one-fourth its historic annual level, so when the priority becomes drinking water, the orchards don’t get moisture they have traditionally received from irrigation.

Enter honeybees. They too need water and since California is a major honey producing state, this drought will undoubtedly have some effect on nationwide honey prices.

A conference held in the Williston Research Extension Center in 2005 was all about getting a vegetable system started in North Dakota because scientists at UC-Davis were seeing signs then that the Colorado River was drying up and water rights from that major tributary were to become a huge legal issue. Bingo!

Few people heeded that warning, but since then, the Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture at Dakota College in Bottineau has picked up the ball and begun a fledgling vegetable-growing curriculum to help local producers.

There are now a number of commercial vegetable producers across North Dakota but it isn’t nearly enough to fix the shortages that we’ll see in California by late summer.

Here’s another twist to what might sound like an end-of-the-w-world movie plot.

Since the Colorado River supplies the city of Los Angeles with drinking water, we can rest assured that LA will be fighting for all the water it can get, since it is the nation’s second-largest city.

Until that all stabilizes, the best thing we can do is mitigate the risk and grow our own.