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Farmers in Santa Maria Valley Wary of Salty Water

Farmers in Santa Maria Valley Wary of Salty Water

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - The 2013 Santa Barbara County Crop Report is in. Overall, the production value of local crops went up 10% from the year before. But now in 2014, growers are experiencing the hardship of the statewide drought.

Strawberries are the county's top cash crop at almost $500-million. The drought is affecting just about every facet of the agriculture industry, but strawberry growers in the Santa Maria Valley have their own concerns.

David Peck runs Manzanita Berry Farms in Santa Maria, where 1.5 to 2-million crates of strawberries are grown per year. Like many strawberry farms in the valley, Manzanita pumps their irrigation water from the ground. Up to now the Santa Maria Valley hasn't experienced the same severity of water shortages as other Central Coast regions.

"Here in Santa Maria, we're really blessed with an ample supply of groundwater so far," said Peck. "There hasn't been a lot of wells that I've heard of actually running out of water."

But that doesn't mean the statewide drought hasn't touched local strawberry farmers. Even without a water supply shortage, Peck says the lack of rain is increasing the concentration of salt in local groundwater sources.

"Salt can be detrimental especially to the establishment of really new, small plants, seedlings, transplants like we have with strawberries," said Peck. "It slows them down and makes it harder for them to drink water out of the soil."

That can set plants back and cut production. So far Peck hasn't seen his fields slow down. But he's preparing for tough times ahead.

"If the drought continues, everybody is going to have to make a cut somewhere," said Peck. "Right now I don't see anybody leaving fields fallow because of lack of water. But to say that can't happen, no I'm afraid that is a possibility."

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