The Marin Agricultural Land Trust and the county are providing local agricultural producers with financial assistance to help them survive the drought.
This month, MALT announced it will allocate another $250,000 to a program that helps Marin County ranchers and farmers cope with the critical shortage of water.
“Despite some early-season rains across the region, forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Department of Agriculture and other experts indicate we’re facing a third year of historic drought,” said Scott Dunbar, MALT’s stewardship program manager for agriculture, in a statement.
“After monitoring the drought situation closely,” Dunbar said, “MALT’s board came to the conclusion that acting now to provide additional relief will have the greatest benefit for our agricultural community.”
Marin County Agricultural Commissioner Stefan Parnay said, “It’s really great that they’re doing this again because there is such a need.”
In fiscal year 2020-21, the Marin County Board of Supervisors approved $50,000 to help agricultural producers shoulder the cost of hauling water, and the board allotted another $90,000 for the same purpose during the current fiscal year.
The supervisors also set aside $150,000 during the 2021-22 fiscal year to help specialty crop and nursery stock producers deal with some $1.3 million in losses.
“I’m hoping the board will approve some additional funds to help support our ranching community for this next fiscal year,” Parnay said.
Rain in October filled the storage ponds of many agricultural producers, providing them with sufficient amount of water to get through the summer, Parnay said. He said the biggest short-term challenge that ranchers will face this year is the cost of feed.
“Without the consistent rains during the wintertime, the grasses did not grow like they normally would,” Parnay said, “so there is a lot less forage that is available for the livestock.”
The agricultural commissioner said that because the drought is affecting the entire state and some adjacent states as well, Marin ranchers and farmers will have to look far afield for their feed.
“Come summer time, they’re going to be buying feed from Montana, Idaho and maybe even further east,” he said.
That means Marin agricultural producers will have to cope not only with high feed costs but sky-high transportation expenses, given the price of gasoline.
Dunbar said MALT’s Drought Resilience and Water Security (DRAWS) initiative, which was launched in April 2021, is aimed at making Marin agriculture more resilient for the long term. This third allotment of $250,000 comes in addition to $500,000 that MALT previously spent on the program.
DRAWS provides grants of up to $15,000 per project to give ranchers and farmers the technical assistance and funding they need to design and implement water infrastructure projects. All Marin ranchers and farmers are eligible to apply for DRAWS grants, not just those agricultural producers who are protected by MALT conservation easements.
The previous two phases of DRAWS funding resulted in 41 ranch and farm construction projects. These included developing new water sources, through springs and wells; building water distribution projects that expand and connect water systems across a ranch, often using pumps and piping; and adding water storage capacity.
The new tranche of funding means that seven applications received last fall will now be able to move forward.
“Last year our ranch went completely dry. Storage pond dried up. Well dried up. We were completely reliant on trucked-in water,” Linda Righetti Judah of Lazy R Ranch said in a statement.
“Thanks to DRAWS, we have installed a rain catchment system and a new 5,000-gallon storage tank,” Judah added. “This has been a game changer for us. Our DRAWS infrastructure project is part of a broader effort on our ranch fence off and restore riparian habitat along Stemple Creek.”
Terry Sawyer, co-owner of Hog Island Oyster Co. and of the recently purchased and MALT-protected Leali Ranch, said in a statement, “With the DRAWS funding we were able to tackle an old spring that had been impacted by cattle grazing on the ranch.
“Water quality and performance were poor. We were able to improve production, secure the spring with gravel and a casing, create water storage and install a water trough away from the source,” Sawyer said. “What seems like a small step enhanced this section of the ranch and allowed us to be better stewards of the land.”
Nancy Chaffin, co-owner (with her sister Betsy) of the 208-acre Leiss Ranch, said in a statement, “Life on a ranch is a good life with many challenges: drought, fences and invasive plants. With the help of DRAWS and the Stewardship Assistance Program, we have been able to complete many projects on the land.”