Viewpoints: Farms are growing in the Valley, but need water to thrive

With Sacramento’s farm-to-fork celebration underway, I spent a recent morning sifting through various reports seeking interesting facts on the Sacramento Valley. From diminutive to truly stunning, there are many.

Did you know that we grow bees? In the small town of Ord Bend in Glenn County, C.F. Koehnen & Sons hatches more than 100,000 queen bees and sends them all over the country. Across the valley, Butte County has more than 45,000 bee colonies. Who knew?

Agriculture in our region has a big footprint, with 11,000 farmers and 2 million acres of crops as diverse as apples and wild rice. What’s more, agriculture is growing, especially in counties close to our urban areas. Crops in Yolo County hit an all-time high with $722 million in receipts in 2013. Sacramento County agriculture has enjoyed double-digit growth in recent years. Impressive.

What is also apparent, especially in a drought year, is how integrated agriculture is in the landscape. Dry years bring up good questions about where water goes. Look at the numbers honestly, and it’s not what you hear in the headlines. In fact, farmers in the Sacramento Valley use only 37 percent of the developed water, cities use 4 percent and the remaining 59 percent is used for fish, wetlands and the environment.

For instance, our rice fields not only produce virtually all of America’s sushi rice, but also provide much-needed wildlife habitat, including nearly 60 percent of the food needs for the millions of waterfowl that winter in the Sacramento Valley.

When I ask people what makes our region unique, aside from working agricultural lands, the response is consistent – it’s the people and the place. The region’s embrace of food, farms and community is a great example of our persona. Real food, real farms and real people are making it happen from farm to fork.

The abundance of natural resources – from the Sierra to the Delta – also defines our valley. Our rivers, great landscapes and wildlife are all literally a few hours drive from the Capitol, making us unlike any other place. Add the small towns up the valley and cities like Sacramento, Davis and Chico with their urban vibe and it’s a place people want to stay.

But what makes all of this work is often only apparent when it’s dry – water. Without it we are, in fact, a far different place – fewer farms, far less wildlife, a less desirable life.

We hope for abundant winter rain. We also need more water storage, including the proposed Sites reservoir, to capture more water during rainy years to help during future dry years. Hopefully, the water bond will pass in November, providing a major boost in this area.

In celebration of our region’s bounty, raise a glass of stunning local wine and be especially thankful for the cold glass of water often by its side.