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COLUMN: The view from 30,000 feet above sea level

“From desert into desert” was my thought as we flew out of the Los Angeles airport the other day on our flight to Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

“From desert into desert” was my thought as we flew out of the Los Angeles airport the other day on our flight to Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

I was looking down at the farming area trying to get an estimate of what percentage of what have been fields but which now are the colour of the surrounding sand. Ninety-five per cent would be low.

It is frightening. In a batch of the big circles, which denote the area covered by the pivot irrigation, there might be one that is green.

News of California’s continuing drought is nothing new, however, seeing what was desert before extensive irrigation now looking like the surrounding desert is dramatic.

In some areas even the farm roads seem to have disappeared with the drifting of sand. I hesitate to call the sand “soil,” even though it is a medium of growth.

Without water nothing is growing. The news a few weeks ago indicated heavy rains there.

Four more months of storms would be needed to rid the state of drought.

The affected area of the state in drought was reduced by 2.2 per cent down to 42.7 per cent.  State wide reservoirs are at 30 per cent.

What does this mean for us in B.C.?

It could mean even higher prices for produce. We can be sure if the price of cheap imports goes up so does the price for local products.

Now that might be good for farmers in B.C.

It also means that our savings by feeding ourselves by our own green thumbs will relatively greater. It will pay off to produce our own cauliflower and freeze it for year round use.

Seeing dry riverbeds from the air in California reminds me of flying south over the east coast of China where every bit of huge river deltas was shining with standing water irrigating crops. But hardly a drop of the river reached the ocean.

In Asia, 85 per cent of the river water is used by farmers. In California 80 per cent of surface water is use for irrigation. And, the Nile River in Northern Africa loses 90 per cent of its water for crops.

If we are maxed out on the watering side the world over, then conservation of water use is a must.

One way is to ensure that the soils we are stewarding are nutrient dense, that is, have all the nutrients that plants need in sufficient abundance that the plants can close the stomata on the underside of their leaves and stop transpiring (water) in an effort to get the last of the nutrients they need for growth.

Even when if they have most of what they need, they will still pump water (through transpiration) trying to draw up through their vascular system those remaining nutrients they need.

So, nutrient rich soil including all the micronutrients that plants need, is a help to conserve water. Lets go there before we divert more water, which will raise the cost of food.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which is starting at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.