Wednesday, July 1, 2009 | For the family farm, the margin between profit and loss is razor thin in the best of times. These are certainly not the best of times for farmers in San Diego County.
The wildfires of 2003 and 2007, coupled with a crippling drought — now in its third year — have forced some local farmers out of business. And, with agriculture accounting for 80 percent of California’s water use, those still in business are being hit hard. They are enduring record water price increases, and, in some cases, mandatory usage cutbacks as high as 30 percent.
“One (water) district was proposing increases of more than 100 percent,” said Mike Mellano, a cut flower producer in Oceanside and president of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. Mellano said the record price increases and rationing, along with the worsening economic climate, have created “a little bit of a perfect storm” for county farmers.
One way to weather the storm is to make crops that don’t need as much water. This is the focus of pioneering research by University of California, San Diego biologist Julian Schroeder. He is a leader among scientists developing a new generation of crops that could ultimately protect agriculture from the scourge of drought. But as with all of humankind’s attempts to improve on nature, Schroeder’s innovation has high hurdles to overcome in both the scientific and cultural realms.
“The bad news is there is no magic bullet,” said Schroeder.
“The good news is that drought-tolerant mechanisms are multifarious,” he adds, meaning there are multiple approaches scientists can take that will yield an improvement.