Monday, August 27, 2007

Dry Year, Higher Food Prices

Let’s hope the winter is a wet one, and I heard the walnuts are falling in Carmichael, so that is a good sign.

Dry hills hurt cattle industry
Consumers may see higher beef prices
By Jim Downing - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Monday, August 27, 2007

From Interstate 505, it's hard to tell that the grass in the hills west of Winters is any less plentiful than it was last August.

But drive up Salt Creek on the Clarence Scott Ranch, where 18 of Rick Harrison's cows huddled in the shade of an oak tree, and the pastures are close-clipped, the springs dry.

Harrison stopped his flatbed pickup in a spring-fed gully that often runs with water through the summer. This year, the creekbed clay crunches under his tires.

"It wouldn't bother me if it started raining in October and didn't quit till May," he said.

With adequate irrigation water left in the state's reservoirs from last year, most farmers in the Sacramento Valley benefited from a dry winter and warm spring. Spring tomato planting was untroubled by rain, for instance, and the weather was perfect for the almond blossom.

Local ranchers, however, will not remember the year fondly.

Irrigation doesn't reach into the grassy hills where many cattle spend the winter and spring, so ranchers are usually the first in the ag business to feel the impact of a dry winter.

The pastures here got 9 inches of rain, less than half the average, and there weren't the big storms needed to recharge springs and ponds. Without water sources in the hill pastures, what grass does grow becomes basically useless for grazing.