#CAonMyPlate; Farmers innovate to get more crop per drop – commentary in the San Diego Union Tribune

state on plate

By Andy Lyall

During your next meal, I encourage you to look down at your plate. More closely. No matter if you live in San Diego or Baltimore, chances are, one or more of the foods on that plate was grown or raised right here in California. With nearly half of American-grown nuts, fruits and vegetables produced in California, the state is on your plate.

But the delicious and diverse array of California food available to us is only half the story. The other half involves the California farmers and ranchers, like my family, who have been consistently, quietly, reducing their environmental footprint and enhancing their practices to grow “more crop per drop.

We’ve done this by implementing new technologies and water management procedures to improve water efficiency and sustainability. It’s time we told this story louder.

At our farm, Rancho Monte Vista in the Pauma Valley of San Diego County, we employ a variety of water and soil-moisture monitoring techniques in growing citrus fruit and avocados. My dad, Warren, brother, Tim, and I are proud of the long-term investments we’ve made to upgrade our irrigation systems in part by installing solar power for pumps. For us — drought or no drought, and day in and day out — we are serious about getting the most out of our limited water supplies.

We’re not alone. For us and many others, innovations have been central to the success of farming and ranching — not only during California’s lingering drought, but over the last several decades.

Another example is Cannon Michael, from Bowles Farming Co. in Los Banos, who uses tablet apps and unmanned aircraft to monitor temperature, soil moisture and irrigation efficiency as he grows tomatoes, field crops and grains. And at De Jager Dairy North and Corona Ranches in Chowchilla, Mike and Gerrilynn De Jager are experimenting with the use of recycled dairy wastewater through a drip irrigation system to irrigate feed crops.

These actions aren’t exceptions; they’re examples of the types of innovation that occurs every day on California farms and ranches. By producing more crop per drop, California farmers set a remarkable efficiency standard.

Entering a fifth year of drought has forced all Californians to re-examine how and why we use water the way we do, in our homes, businesses, public spaces and, certainly, on our farms and ranches. Water experts estimate a person needs about 50 gallons of water a day to satisfy basic health and safety needs.

But we must also take into account the amount of water required to produce the foods we eat. According to a 2015 study by the science and engineering company Exponent, it takes 1,326 gallons of water to grow the food an average American eats each day, or a 2,000 calorie diet.

Considering the vital role California farming and ranching plays in our daily lives and in growing food for us all, we must work together to ensure that farms have the water they need to continue producing that food, in the most efficient ways for local conditions.

As we continue to read about the partial relief winter storms have brought to the state, we cannot lose sight of the fact that improvements and updates to California’s water system are critical if we are to support a growing population, a thriving ecosystem and productive farms and ranches. We must also support farmers and ranchers as we continue our commitment to developing innovative ways to use water efficiently.

Farmers have been open-source technology innovators since long before that term was invented. We understand that using water-efficient technology — both hardware and software — will be crucial to our ability to keep the state on every Californian’s plate, now and into the future.

Andy Lyall operates Rancho Monte Vista with his father and brother in the Pauma Valley in San Diego County, growing Navel, Cara Cara and Valencia oranges as well as avocados.

Learn more about #CAonMyPlate

Link to article in San Diego Union Tribune

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