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Some San Diego Farmers Shut Off Water In Prolonged Drought

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, talks about the impact of the four-year drought on San Diego farmers at grapefruit orchard in Escondido, March 19, 2015.

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San Diego’s 4,000 farms have been hit hard from drought — not because they have run out of water, but because water is squeezing their budgets.

Part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s $1 billion drought relief package will help struggling agriculture workers and their families in the Central Valley.

San Diego’s 4,000 farms have also been hit hard — not because farmers have run out of water, but because water is squeezing their budgets.

Farmers rely on rain during the winter months so they don’t have to spend as much money on water. Most growers in San Diego County are municipal water customers and pay approximately $1,400 per acre-foot of water.

“Several hundred have made the decision to shut the water off on their farms,” said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau.

“In many of those cases, they’re likely to be an older farmer who has been in the business for a long time and they just cannot rationalize the reinvestment of the farm,” he added.

The losses include 10,000 acres of avocado groves.

“Avocados are an interesting crop,” Larson said. “They grow on steep, rocky hillsides. There’s not a lot of other things you can do with that property.”

Cattle ranchers also have suffered. Nearly 200,000 acres in the region’s backcountry are dedicated to nearly 17,000 cows. Many ranchers have sold part of their herds because there’s not enough grass to go around, Larson said.

"They can buy supplemental feed, which is very, very expensive, or they can just start selling the cows and the calves off early and just thin the herd," Larson said, "so what grass they have there will sustain the rest."

When farms shut down it also puts some of the county’s 10,000 farm workers out of a job.

"That’s the part of the community we worry about when that happens," Larson said.

Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane and Peggy Pico contributed to this report.

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