Extreme weather in Calif. forces farmers to take drastic measures

LOS ANGELES -- While most of the East is buried under ice and snow, the West is having a heat wave. It topped 80 degrees in Los Angeles Friday. President Obama is meeting with farmers in California's Central Valley who are struggling through one of the driest years in memory.

The White House is providing some help: $160 million in disaster relief. Nearly all of California is in a drought. 

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Joe Del Bosque
CBS News
 In 61 percent of the state, it is extreme or exceptional. Farmers have been forced to take drastic steps.

Farmer Joe Del Bosque says he'll have to leave as many as 600 acres fallow because he has no water.  

In a normal year, Del Bosque's fields would grow lush with almonds, cherries and melons, but with reservoirs at record lows, the state -- for the first time -- is cutting off water to growers in the Central Valley farm belt.

"We are expecting to receive no water from the Department of the Interior," said Del Bosque.

The Fresno area normally gets about 11.5 inches of rain in a year. Last year it got three. 

"It would take some 45 to 60 days of rainfall in Northern California to substantially relieve the current circumstances," said Martin McIntyre.

  McIntyre is a local manager of the water system. California's 54-year-old infrastructure is straining to meet demands of farms, cities and the environment. 

"We need to modernize it, update it and in some cases expand it," McIntyre said.

Del Bosque managed to save some water from last year. That will go to save his cash crop: almonds. But he won't be growing melons. His 600 fallow acres normally would produce 600,000 boxes of melons. 

  "When we start harvesting here, we'll have up to 100 people working in this field. And if we don't plant this field, those people are out of work," said Del Bosque. "California produces 50 percent of the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables. And that source of food is in danger right now. And it's going to cause shortages of food and rising prices." 

Del Bosque is a second generation farmer in this valley. He fears he'll be the last. 

"Next year, if we have another dry year like this and we get no water, I think I'll just be hanging it up," said Del Bosque.   

Fresno County, where Del Bosque is farming, is the top agricultural producer in the coutry; there, 250,000 acres will lay fallow because of the drought -- an area bigger than Manhattan.

  • Bill Whitaker

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