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Drought: Fresno County Lettuce Crop Cut In Half

Photo of Lettuce
Ezra David Romero
Valley Public Radio

The drought has become so bad in Central California that it’s now affecting the ingredients in your salad bowl. Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports on a major drop in the lettuce harvest in the region. 

During the first few weeks of spring the Central Valley usually harvests almost the entire supply of the nation’s head lettuce, but this year the supply is meager.

Les Wright, the Fresno County Ag Commissioner, says in 2014 the total acreage of head lettuce grown in Fresno County dropped from 10,000 acres to around 6,000 acres. This year that number dropped even farther to 3,000 acres.

He says lack of water, warming temperatures and a drop in consumer demand are to blame.

WRIGHT: “If they have the water they’re planting other types of lettuce or vegetables. If they don’t have water the land is sitting fallow.”

William Bourdeau is one of those farmers. He’s the Executive Vice President of Harris Farms near Coalinga, Calif. For the second year in a row his operation fallowed their entire lettuce crop, 1,500 acres harvested twice a year.

BOURDEAU: “Very, very little hope that we will receive any surface water this year. It’s fairly easy to make the decision that you’re going to fallow and you’re not going to employ thousands of people. It’s just the situation that we find ourselves in.”

Instead of focusing on water heavy crops like lettuce and melons, Bourdeau says Harris Ranch is concentrating on crops like almonds, pistachios and asparagus. 

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
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