News From the Farm | Week of February 3, 2014

Drought News

We have received many concerned inquiries from our CSA community, our wholesale buyers, and other friends of the farm about how the weather is going to affect our farming year.  This weekend’s rain made me hopeful that more wet weather is headed our way.  Nevertheless, whether it is or isn’t, this is the business we are in. Every year we have to make adjustments based on what mother nature decides to throw our way.  We will face this year like we do any year, hoping that the stars align in our favor and doing our best to make the right decisions for the farm given the information we have. Below is a letter written by Paul Muller to Val Dolcini, the State Executive Director of the United States Department of Agriculture in California.  He thoughtfully reached out to us to check in on the farm given the dry conditions. Paul’s response gives some concrete examples of how the drought is affecting us and what we are doing to address the water shortage.  – Jenna Muller

Val, Thanks for your interest – each year presents its own challenges this year will be especially unique. We are scrambling to keep things wet and are almost out of hay. There is not a blade of green grass in the fields normally used as winter rain-fed pastures. We have used all of the hay that we baled last spring and we will need to buy feed in order to get us through. Organic hay is especially short – possibly affecting the certification of our 90 ewes and about 120 of this year’s lambs. Every rancher and animal farmer is doing the same scramble. Many are selling off their history and future – selling mother cows or ewes and the genetics so carefully chosen over time. We have some acres of cover crops – vetch and oats that we have been watering on our veggie beds and are now looking to them to provide enough feed to get us through until we have some rainfall. Those cover crops will be doing some double duty this year. 

There probably will not be releases in Cache Creek this year for irrigation, so we are looking to cut back on the total acres that we plant, tossing out some of the more water intensive crops, and buying more tape to drip many of the crops that we usually sprinkle. We are hoping that the wells that we use to pump water will hold out as our water tables drop. There are so many secondary impacts – no forage for deer makes our green growing crops look especially tasty – wild pigs think much the same way and are encroaching on any soft, moist soil that might make for easy rooting. The electric fences that we have put along our borders are being replaced by permanent wire. We are looking at $20,000 in fencing this year and maybe more next. Hungry wildlife are ‘shocked’ to find feed in such low supply.

We generally don’t need to irrigate this time of year but have been pushing water to our trees and other perennials. If you don’t get some deep moisture this time of year they bloom and are then wanting for water when they are actively rooting and pushing new growth – next year’s wood. I can anticipate some summer time energy crunches if the hydropower production drops off and there may not be other ways to replace it quickly enough. So we are thinking ahead about where we will be this summer in terms of having backups for some of our water systems. 

Val, all of this is evolving and may end if we have good drenching rains. That we can pray for. We are doing our share of rain dances and urging that stubborn high-pressure ridge to go north where it belongs. 

Throw all of the above into the changing health care requirements for employers – delayed a bit but still on the horizon, the regular equipment maintenance and all of the other curve balls that can be thrown over the plate and we feel lucky that we have some resilience built into the farm design, places where we can shift and change focus. We feel pretty positive about the near term – that we can keep our crew employed, knowing that we have a year that will test us a bit.

Thanks for the offer of help and your concern. We will be clearer as we go forward and this upcoming drenching rain soaks us real good. Hope that all is well with you.  

— Paul Muller


Our cover crop (and lonely ladybug) are searching for any sign of moisture. This planting was put into the soil in October and has only grown about 4 inches.