The day-long tour before the California Alfalfa and Grains Symposium, Dec. 11-12, investigated four enterprises in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta area. Nearly 130 forage and wheat industry folks learned of the water-use and unique soil challenges delta farmers deal with.
The delta is made up of tributaries, sloughs and islands on more than 738,000 acres in five California counties. More than a century ago, a network of levees was built by farmers to drain marshland. As the years passed, higher and higher levees were built to keep surrounding waters out. Eventually, the marshland turned into high-organic-matter land from which island farms, mostly below sea level, were formed.
Delta water is used by not only the state ag industry, but also by 25 million state residents and is a resting place for native and migratory animals, birds and fish.
But the delta is in trouble. Urban development has put excess demand on its water system, salinity is a problem and farming practices haven't helped protect its soil, says Mick Canaveri, retired University of California Extension worker.
"In 30 years as farm advisor here," says Canaveri, "I have seen some island farms go from 40% organic matter to 5% organic matter." Today farmers are encouraged to use reduced- and minimum-tillage practices and other cropping systems that don't disturb the soil.
Read more on the delta farm and forage industry by viewing our photo gallery.