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Brown Pastures Force Some San Diego Ranchers To Sell Off Cattle

Nearly 200,000 acres of land in the San Diego's backcountry are dedicated to 17,000 cows, according to the San Diego County Farm Bureau. But a lack of rainfall has turned their normally green pastures brown, forcing ranchers to sell-off their spring calves earlier than usual.
University of California Division of Agriculture
Nearly 200,000 acres of land in the San Diego's backcountry are dedicated to 17,000 cows, according to the San Diego County Farm Bureau. But a lack of rainfall has turned their normally green pastures brown, forcing ranchers to sell-off their spring calves earlier than usual.

California’s agricultural industry is facing $1 billion in lost revenue this year due to the severe drought, according to a new report by UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

In San Diego County, cattle ranchers and avocado growers are among the hardest hit.

Nearly 200,000 acres in the region’s backcountry are dedicated to 17,000 cows, according to the San Diego County Farm Bureau. But a lack of rainfall has turned the normally green pastures brown, forcing ranchers to sell their spring calves sooner than usual.

“And it's even gotten so bad some of them are selling off their breeding stock,” Farm Bureau executive director Eric Larson said. “So they’re losing the cows and the bulls that they would use in future years simply because there’s no grass to maintain them.”

Larson said San Diego’s citrus and avocado growers are also in a difficult situation.

“Their problem is during the winter months when they normally would have been able to avoid purchasing very expensive water, they had to irrigate because there was so little winter rainfall,” Larson said. They normally count on not paying water bills, or low water bills, in the winter, and that helps carry them over from the cash flow standpoint through the summer."

Most growers in San Diego County are municipal water customers and pay approximately $1,400 per acre-foot of water, according to the Farm Bureau.

Larson said growers won’t be impacted directly if proposed state mandatory water restrictions are approved.

“When the farmers will have to do cuts is when the Metropolitan Water District starts to restrict actual deliveries of water,” Larson said. “From all indications, we’re a year a way from that if we don’t get decent rainfall this winter.”

San Diego County’s overall agriculture industry is valued at $1.6 billion a year.

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