The drought's assault on California's $50 billion farm industry

A growing number of drought stricken California farmers are making the painful decision not to plant as much or anything at all for fear of losing it all. It costs a lot of money to put seeds or seedlings into the ground. But if a farmer cannot be reasonably sure of a crop, why do it?

Kitty Dolcini has been a farmer her entire life; a person who has lived with the triumphs and tragedies that farmers experience over the years. California's monster drought is a farming tragedy with a growing number of farmers choosing to plant less or not at all. Her farm, near Petaluma, is a shared farm. So it's a microcosm of what's going on with small farms in California, But, it's so early in the season, it will also grow to really large farms.

On Ms. Dolcini's Red Hill Ranch, seven entities share this farm, including three organic crop farmers, a beef cattle rancher, eggs, herbs and pollination bees. But this dam that holds the farm's life giving water, is ominously low for May; the beginning of the season. "This would be like end of September. In a normal rainy season this time of year, you would just see that pier start to appear," said Dolcini.

Ms. Dolcini had to do some very sophisticated calculations to find out how to dole the water out to the folks that share it. "Measure how much water we had in the dam, figure how much water we had to have for the cows and the chickens. And, then we had to ask our people how much water are you going to use," said Dolcini. Of the three crop farmers, one on a small plot, will tough it out. Another small plot renter will farm only a third, But the largest grower, on 30 acres, will not plant at all.

To save them, she will have to lower their rent. "So we have to be good to one another and so that we can make this all through," said Dolcini It's not just making it through this drought, it's the genuine fear that they may not be able to keep doing their life's calling. Ms. Dolcini describes it this way, "A lifestyle that we love and you know, we love the land."

Farmers are just coming out of the pandemic that cut off a lot of restaurant business and now this, the drought.