A series of storms brought much-needed rain and mountain snowfall to drought-stricken California in recent weeks. But it will likely be some time before hay growers and other farmers in the state see water allotments return to normal, says Rick Staas, CEO of the San Joaquin Valley Hay Growers Association, a cooperative with 275 members spread throughout the state’s Central Valley.

“The precipitation is certainly helpful,” says Staas. “But after three years of drought, the water levels in our reservoirs are way down.”

The National Weather Service is predicting that the El Niño weather system that brought the January precipitation – 4-6’ of snow in parts of the Sierra Nevada mountain range – will continue into spring. “But even if we get normal or above-normal rainfall through the rest of the season, things are still likely to be pretty tight. We have a lot of ground to make up.”

Many California hay growers have seen water allotments drop by 50% or more over the past several years, Staas notes. “It’s going to take several years at least to get back to where we should be.”

The lack of available irrigation water, coupled with depressed hay prices in 2009, will play a role in decreased alfalfa plantings in the state this year, he adds. Staas expects state acres could be down by as much as 10% from year-ago levels. “That would bring it to a point as low as I’ve seen it in a long, long time.”

To contact Staas, call 209-835-1662 or email haygrower@caldsl.net.