Desert farmers defend maligned alfalfa production

Source By Caleb Hampton

March 22, 2023

Bales of alfalfa hay sit under the sun by an Imperial Valley roadside near Calipatria. The high-protein forage crop covers roughly a third of the valley’s farmland and is harvested in the region year-round.

The Imperial Valley, a vast grid of greens, browns and yellows, produces dozens of crops. But two visual features define the valley: open channels carrying water from the Colorado River and blocks of hay that tower above the irrigation channels.

Forage crops such as alfalfa, sudangrass and bermudagrass cover more than half the Imperial Valley’s farmland. “From the growers’ perspective, alfalfa is their best crop,” said Ali Montazar, University of California Cooperative Extension irrigation and water management advisor for Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties.

But as the Colorado River dwindles, environmentalists and competing water users scorn farmers for growing the thirsty crop in a drought-stricken region. “It’s simple math,” High Country News reported last year. “Growing less hay is the only way to keep the river’s water system from collapsing.”

Much of the criticism of California’s alfalfa production focuses on the crop’s export to countries such as China, Japan and Saudi Arabia. In recent years, California has exported around 30% of its hay, with several estimates showing a higher proportion from the Imperial Valley is sold abroad. Some critics liken it to shipping “virtual water” out of a drought zone and overseas.

It is true that alfalfa needs lots of water—more than almost any crop in California. However, growers say criticism of its cultivation in the desert region overlooks important context around the nuances of crop planning, the globalized food system and alfalfa’s role in nutrition and food security. The crop is also a key contributor to the Imperial Valley’s economy.

The region’s geography is ideal for alfalfa production. Because the Imperial Valley gets year-round sun, farmers can harvest alfalfa up to 10 times per year, yielding twice as much hay as many other growing regions. “We probably have the highest yield and highest quality alfalfa in the world,” said Larry Cox, who farms in the Imperial Valley.


California forking out $34 million to clean up New and Tijuana rivers. SAM RIBAKOFF / February 2, 2023

Border watersheds have been plagued for years by trash, sewage, agricultural and industrial runoff and other pollutants.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — The State Water Resources Control Board will spend $34 million for six projects to improve the water quality of the New River and the Tijuana River along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The New River starts south of the city of Mexicali, and runs through Calexico on the U.S. side of the border and through Imperial County to the Salton Sea. The Tijuana River runs from Baja California into San Diego.

Both rivers are heavily polluted by sewage, trash, industrial and agricultural waste, and other sediment and pollutants.

“The water quality in our border watersheds have been degraded by sewage, trash and other pollutants for decades, posing a constant threat to the health of people, wildlife, and our economies,” Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the state water board, said in a statement Thursday. “This funding comes at a critical time, as these challenges are exacerbated by extreme weather patterns in our changed climate. These projects will help improve water quality for our border communities while we continue our collaboration at the local, state and federal levels, and with our Mexican partners, to protect our water resources.”

Those projects include $18 million for the city of Calexico and the California Department of Water Resources to install a trash screen, a system to pump water back into the river after it’s been treated at the Calexico Wastewater Treatment Plant, and other infrastructure to prevent against erosion on the New River.

Another project will be headed by San Diego County, which will use more than $4 million to build a sediment and trash control basin and do dredging to remove sediment, trash and debris at the Tijuana River Pilot Channel and Smuggler’s Gulch, and area the announcement by the board describes as a place where pollutants on the Tijuana River accumulate, and through a series of gates, is used to divert trash from the river from reaching the Pacific Ocean.

San Diego County will receive $2 million to remediate an illegal dumping ground that has altered the course of the Tijuana River and to restore the floodplain and habitat around the property.

The Rural Community Assistance Corporation will receive $4.7 million to build a floating trash boom system that can be used during the stormy season in the concrete-lined portion of the Tijuana River Channel. FULL ARTICLE