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California Policies Are Failing Agriculture: 3rd-Generation Farmer

California Policies Are Failing Agriculture: 3rd-Generation Farmer

Farm workers move piping used to irrigate a field near Palm Desert, Calif., on July 13, 2022. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Sophie LiSiyamak Khorrami

Sophie Li & Siyamak Khorrami

9/19/2023

Updated: 10/19/2023

“Stay out of our way. Let us do our job,” is the resounding message from a third-generation farmer in central California concerning what he says is the state’s excessive regulation of farming.
While water is a necessity in agriculture, California’s policies are making it increasingly harder for farmers to make use of it to produce crops to feed the state, according to Sohan Samran, a farmer from Madera County, located in the eastern San Joaquin Valley.
One such policy is the state-mandated restriction on pumping water for irrigation, Mr. Samran said. California farmers are limited in the amount of groundwater they can extract under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, passed in 2014.
“If you pump more than [the amount of water allocated to you], you'd have to pay a penalty,” he said in a recent episode of EpochTV’s “California Insider.” “There’s never enough water, and when there’s a dry year, your allocation is a lot less.”
Last year, the Madera County Board of Supervisors approved penalties on farmers who extract more groundwater from their wells. Starting at $100 per acre-foot in 2023, these penalties escalate annually by an additional $100 per acre-foot over the allocated usage, to reach a maximum of $500 per acre-foot by 2027.
Sohan Samran, a farmer from Madera County, in the eastern San Joaquin Valley. (Taras Dubenets/The Epoch Times)

Sohan Samran, a farmer from Madera County, in the eastern San Joaquin Valley. (Taras Dubenets/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Samran says such regulation creates a financial burden for growers from regions, such as Madera County, that depend on groundwater mainly when surface water—including lakes and rivers—isn’t available or is insufficient.
Dry seasons can lead to even harsher situations for land that depends solely on state water allocations from dams, Mr. Samran said. In some cases, growers have to give up permanent crops on those lands because of water shortages.
“Last year, we [almost] didn’t have any allocation—only 5 percent of water was allocated to it—so we had to abandon [the land],” he said. “The trees died. We had to abandon them, and it was a big investment. This year, we have plenty of water, but the trees are dead.”
A sign calls for solving California's water crisis on the outskirts of Buttonwillow in California's Kern County on April 2, 2021. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

A sign calls for solving California's water crisis on the outskirts of Buttonwillow in California's Kern County on April 2, 2021. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Luckily, the historic barrage of storms this winter offered some breathing room for California farmers who had battled extreme dry conditions, Mr. Samran said. As of mid-September, the state is nearly 100 percent out of drought, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Climate Prediction Center.
Recognizing the ramifications of drought periods, Mr. Samran said he proactively constructed a canal on his property earlier this year, designed to capture floodwater and facilitate the recharging of groundwater resources by allowing water to seep into the soil to replenish underground storage.
“We tried to grab some of that [flood] water and apply it to our farms and recharge our groundwater with it. And we also try to irrigate our farms with it instead of pumping it out of the ground,” he said.
Although this proved beneficial for his family’s farm, Mr. Samran emphasized that it’s important for the state to invest in water infrastructure, which would store water for dry years and also mitigate flooding during periods of excess rainfall.
The primary pump seen in the foreground is an element of a groundwater recharge project in Fresno County on March 13, 2023. (Andrew Innerarity/California Department of Water Resources via AP)

The primary pump seen in the foreground is an element of a groundwater recharge project in Fresno County on March 13, 2023. (Andrew Innerarity/California Department of Water Resources via AP)

“The state and federal governments have to be involved in [building more infrastructure],” he said. “Only they can do it. ... We don’t have the rights, we don’t have the resources. For the health of the entire state, we need to capture more of this water and store [it].”
Another policy that Mr. Samran highlighted as having a dual effect is the 2016 law that mandated overtime pay for farm workers after eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a workweek, which went into effect in January 2022.
Laws such as that one that are intended to protect workers could also be hurting them, he said, because farmers might choose to hire more people to cover those hours or mechanize their production to keep costs down.
He added that it’s impractical to treat farm work like any other job because it involves a lot of seasonal work.
“In a short time, you have to put in a lot of hours to go harvest your crops or ... go plant your crops,” he said. Sixty-hour work weeks exist in farming “strictly because of the seasonal demand.”
Almonds on the ground under almond trees. (Courtesy of Sohan Samran)

Almonds on the ground under almond trees. (Courtesy of Sohan Samran)

A significant portion of California’s economy revolves around agriculture, which contributes more than $50 billion in yearly sales and provides employment to more than 420,000 people, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit research institution in San Francisco.
Additionally, Mr. Samran said that given California’s role as the leading agricultural producer in the nation, lawmakers must prioritize and actively support the industry’s expansion and development.
He also expressed concern that if an increasing number of farmers are forced out of business because of elevated costs and stringent water regulations, it could lead the state, and even the nation, into a precarious food crisis.
“We want to continue to produce safe, affordable food for our country, [and] we need water for that,” he said. “Without water, there is no farming community. Water is the most precious resource we have.”
Despite acknowledging that the current trajectory of the state isn’t as hopeful as he would like, Mr. Samran says he’s seeking ways to achieve success amid challenging conditions.
“You can’t give up, because you made lifelong investments in this farm,” he said. “We’ll keep farming until we can’t. We won’t stop. We want to continue to do what we think is the best for our community.”
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Sophie Li

Sophie Li

Author

Sophie Li is a Southern California-based reporter covering local daily news, state policies, and breaking news for The Epoch Times. Besides writing, she is also passionate about reading, photography, and tennis.

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Siyamak Khorrami

Siyamak Khorrami

Author

Siyamak Khorrami has been the general manager and chief editor of the Southern California edition of The Epoch Times since 2017. He is also the host of the “California Insider” show, which showcases leaders and professionals across the state with inside information about trending topics and critical issues in California.

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