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The Interview: Water & Walnuts

This interview is also available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

James Gallagher is a top Republican legislator in California and a sixth-generation farmer. He is dealing with challenges when it comes to water and walnuts for both occupations. California is part of several initiatives geared toward future sustainability when it comes to water use, food production and transportation. As a Republican, Gallagher would prefer that sustainability efforts be more individually focused and voluntary, rather than mandated by state and/or federal policy.

“When it comes to California, it really is feast or famine,” Gallagher explained to American Farmland Owner about the water situation.

Parts of the state have dealt with drought; others suffered flooding. It’s a large state, so different areas deal with different challenges. Policies need to be flexible, Gallagher maintains.

California has been implementing a plan called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which passed the state assembly in 2014. That was the year that Gallagher was elected after he previously served as a county supervisor.

The SGMA has taken years to implement as communities navigate logistics. The idea is to assist communities as they create long-term plans to make sure that they don’t deplete the area’s groundwater supply. Running out of water is particularly concerning for parts of the state that lack enough surface water for their needs.

“We’ve had pretty stable groundwater to the north in the Sacramento Valley (where he lives) but that’s not the case everywhere. But many farmers, especially in the Central Valley, south of me, are very reliant on groundwater. So, this system is designed to work so that each area will come up with their own sustainability design plan,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher understands the focus on sustainability. But he thinks that producers are creative and dedicated and will collaborate to come up with the plan that best fits their own needs, while also preserving a longer-term commitment to responsible practices for the water and land.

He thinks some of the requirements from SGMA will be too difficult for some communities. “What we’re seeing in the Central Valley… is the potential for a lot of fouling of the ground because they won’t have the water resource to farm those properties.”

RELATED: Some landowners are intentionally flooding their land following heavy rain to refill their water supply. Read this Reuters story here.

Gallagher continued, “Labor costs, electricity costs…so much greater in California. All our power costs have gone up substantially. So, when you put all those things together, it’s making it much harder to make everything work.”

He thinks some producers may have to switch to other crops because they won’t have enough available water to grow them. And that’s a difficult thing to do. That would mean changing their way of life plus it can be especially costly making the switch.

Gallagher hopes his family doesn’t have to make a drastic decision like that. There is a legacy to protect. His ancestors started farming in 1868 after arriving from Ireland. Gallagher is committed to preserving that legacy for his five kids.

But the nut business these days is tough, especially tough. There have been too many walnuts in the United States and not enough buyers globally. Record low prices leave Gallagher and other growers agonizing over their future.

“There’s a lot of walnut growers, including myself, my family, we’re trying to figure out…can we find a way to get through this tough time and hope that the commodity price goes back up?” he wonders.

He is fortunate, though, he said. His family also grows rice, which helps to make up for what walnut prices have lacked.

“That’s helped balance it out,” Gallagher.

NOTE: California Assemblyman James Gallagher will be a keynote speaker where he will discuss farming, fuels, sustainability and the future at the 17th Annual Land Investment Expo in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, on January 9th, 2024.

To check out the full list of speakers, unique experiences and to register, click here.


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