FIREBAUGH, Calif. — When Joe Del Bosque bought one of his first courses 25 years ago, his wife, Maria, nicknamed it “the home course.” She hoped the agriculturally rich half-mile stretch of land would bring them enough money to buy his first house.
The land allowed them to do that and more.
Del Bosque, 72, now farms 2,000 acres, including the half-mile he first bought. His vast fields of melons are among the most productive in the country and almonds from him are sold all over the world.
“It’s been a great journey for me,” Del Bosque said. “Until now.”
These last two years, Del Bosque has felt that his long-term family farming business is under threat.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had this much pressure in my entire farming career,” he said, his eyes worrying under the brim of his tan cowboy hat. “This is not really the way I want my career to end. I want to be able to pass down a thriving and growing farm to our children and grandchildren. It looks tougher and tougher and a little bleaker every year.”
The field, which del Bosque has been preparing for planting since last year, could go uncultivated if his farm does not receive enough water this year. That would put 80 to 100 skilled people out of work, a painful reality for longtime farmers in the area like Del Bosque, who have spent most of their careers growing crops in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
Here in the San Joaquin Valley and the Central and South Coast regions, agriculture has employed more than 400,000 people each year in the last decade alone, most of them Latino. For many, it has been the livelihood of several generations, and it is a significant part of average annual employment in the state.
california produces two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts and more than a third of its vegetables — Among the most valued commodities in 2020 are almonds and grapes.
But fueled by climate change, the North American Southwest is experiencing its driest 22-year period, since 2000, in at least 1,200 years. It is expected to persist until 2022 and after, according to new research published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Researchers at the University of California, Merced, estimated that last year’s drought cost California’s agricultural industry $1.1 billion, nearly 8,750 full- and part-time jobs, and 385,000 acres of idle land in the Central Valley alone, according to the to study.
When Del Bosque grew up in the area, his life revolved around farm work, picking melons alongside the farm workers his father managed. When he created his own family farm in 1985, he fulfilled his American dream, he said. Today, several family members depend on the farm for a living.
He and Maria, also a farm worker, have six daughters and nine grandchildren. Del Bosque hopes to introduce some of his grandchildren to agriculture, but he is losing hope about its viability.
His farm is struggling to cope with a scarce water supply, as lower yields in crop production and rising wages for workers have created strained economic cuts. As his farm faces another dry year, he struggles to stay afloat.