Recently I traveled to California to meet with farmers who are coping with the state’s historic drought. This was my second trip to the Golden State in recent months to see first-hand how USDA’s disaster assistance and conservation programs are helping producers and rural communities, and to continue the conversation about how USDA and the federal government as a whole can support efforts to build long term resilience to drought.
My first visit was with Rick Martinez at his Triad Farm in Dixon, California. Rick practices land stewardship on the 4,000 acres he farms and through his leadership as a member of the area Resource Conservation District. While he doesn’t face the exact same set of water shortage pressures experienced by California’s Central Valley farmers, Rick recognizes that the state’s drought may well extend into the foreseeable future and has a long-term plan to build resilience for his operation. As he has done over the past several years, he continues to install drip irrigation in his tomato fields and is experimenting with drip irrigation for his alfalfa and corn crops. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides cost share assistance for some of these investments – but Rick pays for 100 percent of other investments because it makes good business sense. He is able to reduce water use and input costs while increasing yields.
I could have spent the entire day with Rick at his lovely and historic home, which he and his wife Connie have skillfully restored. Rick’s respect for the history of the farm – originally homesteaded by a member of the Donner Party and deeded by Ulysses S. Grant – endures through the actions he is taking to ensure its future by building long-term resilience.
The next day I had the good fortune of visiting with Rich Rominger. Rich is a visionary fourth generation Yolo County farmer and is active in farm organizations and cooperatives. He is also a former California Secretary of Agriculture and Deputy Secretary of USDA. We were joined by Tony Turckovich who farms in the same county. They are pursing innovative ways to manage for drought long term and stressed the need for locally appropriate solutions.
I brought insights from my farm visits to conversations I had with state leaders and other stakeholders as we discussed how the President’s National Drought Resilience Partnership can support state, local and tribal efforts to plan and manage for long term drought resilience.