Farmers Hope To Divert Potential El Nino Floodwaters To Irrigate Crops Before They Bloom

Sustainable Conservation – Weathering the Drought
November 19, 2015
Valley farmers now see drought as rule, not exception: ‘There is a real fear out there’
December 2, 2015

November 25, 2015
By Leigh Martinez

LODI (CBs13) — A few Central Valley farmers are hoping to get their crops underwater this winter with a little help from El Nino.

A new farming technique that started in Fresno has farmers using the expected floodwaters to irrigate before the crops bloom.

San Joaquin Valley growers praise drip irrigation systems for conserving water, but Craig Ledbetter says there may be an even better way to grow crops, using El Nino to do it.

“When I read this story the other day, it was the first time I’d seen it. As I read it, it made a lot of sense,” he said.

Flood irrigation isn’t new, but using floodwater is.

“Falling out of the sky is just as good as pumping from the ground. It’s actually better,” he said.

Don Cameron of Terranova Ranch in Fresno says in 2011 he started collecting storm runoff in canals. He’d pump the stormwater into his fields from January to May. He says the water is clean snowpack from the Sierras and grapevines love it.

So why does it help crops?

“The flooding of the ground actually makes the ground colder,” Ledbetter said. “The colder the ground is, the more dormant the vine will go, the more productive it’ll be the following year.”

He doesn’t have the canals on his land to collect the rain this year, but the California Almond Board is looking for growers who do. It says the floodwaters can help recharge the aquifer and wants farmers to join theresearch project.

“You get way out east into the Lodi Appalachian, you get into the more clay soils,” Ledbetter said. “You won’t have that percolation available, because clay just does not allow water to really go through to the California aquifer.”

Elsewhere, he says he’s anxious to see if keeping crops underwater this winter will keep Central Valley farming afloat next summer.

“Falling out of the sky is just as good as pumping from the ground. It’s actually better,” he said.