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California Drought Forces Modesto Farmer To Uproot Healthy Trees After 27 Years

MODESTO (CBS13) — A Modesto grower is digging up his walnut trees as California's drought becomes more severe.

Last summer, Paul Wenger thought his grove was strong enough to handle another drought. Instead, a reduction in water allocations this year has him forced to take down the old trees in order to give his new trees a chance at surviving the drought.

Wenger took down the trees on Tuesday 27 years after he planted them. There's nothing wrong with the trees, and they still produce walnuts. But Wenger's irrigation district by nearly 30 percent.

"We really don't have groundwater availability," he said. We're waiting for a couple of wells to get drilled. So with 16 inches we need to be able to salvage some of the water from these orchards for our other orchards."

Cutting back on watering isn't possible. Wenger says walnut trees need to stay hydrated up until September's harvest.

"If you stress them for water, the holes will dry down on them and the nuts inside will just turn black and be unmarketable," he said.

The trees won't recover, so the land will remain barren until Wenger gets groundwater wells, or California comes out of the drought.

There are no agencies charting the demise of orchard crops because of the drought, but Wenger, who is also president of the state farm bureau, says he's not the only farmer taking out good trees.

"To take out 20 acres or 10 percent of our walnuts isn't a big deal," he said. I know folks who are taking out 50 percent of their trees so they'll have enough water for the rest."

The owner of G&F Ag Removal services says his company has removed trees from at least 20 different orchards in Stanislaus County.

Trees like the ones Wenger removed likely won't be planted there again. New hybrids may be smaller, but produce walnuts much quicker.

But after 27 years, he says it's still sad to see the 20 acres of trees go.

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