Drop by drop, drip irrigation is becoming more and more practical for Santa Maria Valley farmers.
Agriculture is, by far, the biggest consumer of water in California, as much as 75 percent of statewide supplies annually, and its no different on the Central Coast.
“Nobody over-irrigates anymore, we are very precise on what our crops need”, says long-time Santa Maria Valley farmer Randy Sharer, “because of cost and because of necessity, the drip irrigation system, micro-sprinklers guys are using, the moisture-probe equipment that we use is the finest in the world, so guys just don't cut a ditch and start the water in the morning and come back at night at shut it off, those days are gone.”
Sharer and his family have been farming the Santa Maria Valley for decades including during periods of severe drought .
“This is just part of the cycle that has happened to this part of the country for the past 200 years”, Sharer says about the precious resource that is the lifeblood of the Santa Maria Valley agricultural industry.
“Water is the primary ingredient that makes this whole agricultural industry valuable”, Sharer says, “its in our best interest to manage it as a priority that we do.”
“Water is a very important resource to all of irrigated agriculture”, says Claire Wineman with the Central Coast Grower-Shipper Association, “there's a constant effort to improve the practices and the best available technology has evolved over time.”
“Whereas formerly we used to see a lot of more furrow irrigation, as technology has improved people have been using a lot more sprinkler and what they call micro-irrigation such as drip”, Wineman says, “its important to recognize that different irrigation technologies have different applications and so there are certainly times when drip is the appropriate tool in the toolbox but then there's also other occasions when sprinklers are more effective.”
Santa Maria Valley farmers also have the good fortune of growing their crops atop one of the healthiest groundwater basins all along the Central Coast.
“Santa Maria Valley basin as a whole is in good shape compared to our neighbors”, Randy Sharer says, “we're not San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles, they are having a number of issues, we're not Ventura County where they've got even more dramatic issues.”
“Farmers have become better stewards of water since its become even more of a valuable resource”, Sharer says, “its like anything else, once you appreciate the scarcity of it, you learn to love it a lot more.”