climate in crisis

Bay Area Farmers, Ranchers Face Mounting Challenges as Drought Worsens

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With the Bay Area now in the midst of an extreme drought, Bay Area farmers and ranchers are facing brutal choices.

One North Bay dairy has already folded while others are now shipping in water to keep their animals alive and their operations afloat.

Keeping the cows at Bivalve Dairy in Point Reyes fed and hydrated has become an extreme challenge.

"Each Holstein cow will consume about 40 gallons of water a day," John Taylor from Bivalve Dairy said. "So, if you have a herd of 500 cows, you can understand the type of water we’re looking at."

The ponds the dairy depends on for its drinking water are nearly dry and the grasses the cows graze on aren’t lush and green like they should be. The severe drought conditions have made it incredibly tough to keep the operation flowing.

"If we don’t have enough water and don’t have enough feed for these cows, the tough decisions are coming for all of us," Taylor said. "We can’t stay in business if we can’t keep the cows milking."

The situation is the same across the North Bay. Cattle rancher Loren Poncia said the dry conditions are unprecedented.

"This is the driest it’s ever been in my life and I’ve been farming and ranching full-time for 25 years," he said.

The price of hay has skyrocketed, but Poncia has no choice but to shoulder the cost to keep his herd fed. He’s already moved some of his cows to pastures out of the state.

"I’m confident we’re going to make it through, but I’m absolutely scared and we have a lot of sleepless nights," he said.

Marin County Agricultural Commissioner Stefan Parnay says ranchers and farmers are facing a crisis. He says they desperately need state and federal help, and he warns consumers will feel the impact.

"There’s going to be less local food and vegetables for restaurants, farmers' markets and for our fruit stands," he said.

Poncia predicts a price increase as well.

"What I think it’s going to mean our prices are going to go up for meat and milk and all proteins and vegetables and everything," he said.

About a half-dozen ranchers in Marin County have now resorted to hauling in water. They’re taking it one day at a time, hoping they can hold on.

"I’m nervous every day," Taylor said.

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