California Fresh Fruit Association's Ian LeMay Discusses California Drought, Risks, and California Grown
CALIFORNIA - As a California resident, I intimately experience our state’s changing landscape due to today’s destructive drought, along with the ones that have preceded it in recent years. Reconciling California’s fresh produce growing and production, the long history of family farming, and the impacts of this drought have been a challenge for many, from state officials and suppliers to the wallets purchasing fresh produce in an ever-more uncertain space.
When I spoke to Ian LeMay, President of the California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA), he told me that industry and consumer awareness is one way to begin going toe-to-toe with the drought impacts, and buying and supporting California-grown fresh produce is another essential factor.
“California is blessed with layers of aquifers that make up our groundwater basins, but due to the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), our ability to rely on those aquifers will change. When the growers find themselves in a drought, they can no longer rely on groundwater to fill the void of surface deliveries, the law just does not allow it,” Ian shared with me earlier this month. “This will present an immense challenge because, traditionally, most of our commodities need about three-acre-feet of water in a given season to produce and to bear fruit. When allowances are restricted to something like one-and-a-half acre-feet of water, growers will be forced to make difficult cropping decisions.”
Historically, in California, when we find ourselves in a drought, it limits surface deliveries of water to our farmers, so we must rely on an underground aquifer. But, many of our state’s previous solutions are antiquated and need infrastructure investments now, as we previously reported.
“CFFA represents 13 permanent fresh fruit commodities from grapes and cherries to peaches, apples, and pears. The reason our group uses the word ‘permanent’ is that when one of our growers puts a tree or a vine in the ground, they are making, in most cases, a 20- to 25-year commitment for that tree or vine to grow,” Ian reveals. “For some of our commodities like pears, you can have a tree in the ground even longer than 25 years. One of our members has a 100-year-old pear tree on their property,” Ian reflects.
He pauses to let the gravity of these facts sink in.
“You are truly making a lifetime commitment to that product, that tree, or that vine. Our members are amazing stewards of the land. They are multi-generation families who understand that you have to take care of the land to continue to farm,” Ian says. “We need water to do this, and to address this challenge, we need to keep as much flexibility within our current water system as we can. This means flexibility in water transfers, in our ability to mobilize state and federal funds for infrastructure and thus, start reconstructing our state’s water system now—all of this needs to be done with urgency.”
Ian shares that he would put California farmers up against any other growers in the world in terms of the sustainable farming practices used and the quality of product that they grow.
“During this great time of the year, where our grocery store produce sections are bountiful with California product, we really should take the opportunity to promote California Grown,” Ian tells me. “By the consumer making the choice to ‘Buy Californian,’ they are helping the employer and the employee who picked it, who packed it, and it’s helping their families and their local communities. We want consumers to understand that when they choose California, they’re supporting their next-door neighbors, they’re supporting their fellow Californians.”
As we look to the heightened demand for fresh produce in the Northern Hemisphere this summer, we will keep an eye out for the shifts and initiatives that are addressing our state’s dire needs and those of the entire industry. So, please, keep checking back with AndNowUKnow.