Illustration by Mike Rogalski; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images (crops); Shutterstock.com (all other images)

Can Our Crops Be Saved?

A historic dry spell in the Western U.S. has left farmers without enough water.

As You Read, Think About: How might the drought affect what people in the U.S. eat?

Farming has always been a part of Joe Del Bosque’s life. His parents worked on farms in California in the 1950s. During school breaks, Del Bosque would help out.   

“By the time I was 10, I was on a tractor, working in the field,” Del Bosque, 72, recalls.

In 1985, he opened his own farm in Firebaugh, California. He started out growing melons, like his father once did. 

Over the years, Del Bosque added more crops, like almonds and tomatoes, and had as many as 1,000 farmworkers. Today, his farm stretches out over 2,000 acres, the size of more than 1,500 football fields.

But in 2021, Del Bosque was forced to destroy 105 acres of asparagus crops in order to have enough water for melons. This year, he’ll have to leave at least one-third of his land unplanted.   

Del Bosque is not alone. The Western U.S. is in the midst of a drought that started in 2020. A drought is a long period with little or no rainfall or snowfall that leads to a shortage of water.   

“We depend on Mother Nature to a great degree,” says Del Bosque. “It’s a tough situation.” 

Farming has always been a part of Joe Del Bosque’s life. His parents worked on farms in California in the 1950s. During school breaks, Del Bosque would help out.

“By the time I was 10, I was on a tractor, working in the field,” Del Bosque, 72, recalls.

In 1985, he opened his own farm in Firebaugh, California. He started out growing melons, like his father once did.

Over the years, Del Bosque added more crops, like almonds and tomatoes. He had as many as 1,000 workers. Today, his farm stretches out over 2,000 acres. It’s the size of more than 1,500 football fields.

But in 2021, Del Bosque was forced to destroy 105 acres of asparagus crops. He had to do that to have enough water for melons. This year, he’ll have to leave at least one-third of his land unplanted.

Del Bosque is not alone. The Western U.S. is in the midst of a drought that started in 2020. A drought is a long period with little or no rainfall or snowfall. It leads to a shortage of water.   

“We depend on Mother Nature to a great degree,” says Del Bosque. “It’s a tough situation.” 

Terry Chea/AP Images

Joe Del Bosque

A Dry Disaster

California farmers have been hit hard by the drought. Last year, they left about 395,000 acres unused. The state’s agriculture industry lost more than $1 billion and nearly 9,000 jobs. 

Del Bosque had to lay off 70 farmworkers. He expects to lay off more people this year.

“When we don’t plant, people lose jobs,” Del Bosque says. “It breaks my heart. These people are important to us.”

People across the U.S. could be affected by the lost crops. More than two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts and one-third of its veggies come from California. 

California farmers have been hit hard by the drought. Last year, they left about 395,000 acres unused. The state’s agriculture industry lost more than $1 billion and nearly 9,000 jobs. 

Del Bosque had to lay off 70 farmworkers. He expects to lay off more people this year.

“When we don’t plant, people lose jobs,” Del Bosque says. “It breaks my heart. These people are important to us.”

People across the U.S. could be affected by the lost crops. More than two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts come from California. One-third of the nation’s veggies are grown there.

Looking Ahead

California’s warm summers make it the perfect place to grow crops like almonds, avocados, and grapes. Del Bosque and other farmers rely on irrigation systems (see “Water Works,” below) to water their crops in the dry summer months. 

November through April is usually the wet season in California. Melting snow from the Sierra Nevada mountains helps fill reservoirs. The reservoirs collect and store the water for the drier months. 

But this January and February were the driest on record in California. Scientists say that’s due to climate change, or the change in Earth’s average temperature and weather patterns over time. The San Luis Reservoir, which supplies Del Bosque’s farm, is only half full.  

Scientists can’t predict when the drought will end, but they’re expecting another especially dry summer. That leaves Del Bosque uncertain about the future, though he knows one thing for sure.  

“It’s important that we continue to grow these crops,” Del Bosque says. “California agriculture is important to the whole country.”

California’s warm summers make it the perfect place to grow crops like almonds, avocados, and grapes. Del Bosque and other farmers rely on irrigation systems (see “Water Works,” below) to water their crops in the dry summer months.

November through April is usually the wet season in California. Melting snow from the Sierra Nevada mountains helps fill reservoirs. The reservoirs collect and store the water for the drier months.

But this January and February were the driest on record in California. Scientists say that’s due to climate change. That’s the change in Earth’s average temperature and weather patterns over time. The San Luis Reservoir, which supplies Del Bosque’s farm, is only half full.

Scientists can’t predict when the drought will end. But they’re expecting another especially dry summer. That leaves Del Bosque uncertain about the future. Still, he knows one thing for sure.

“It’s important that we continue to grow these crops,” Del Bosque says. “California agriculture is important to the whole country.”

  1. Why does the author include Joe Del Bosque’s personal story?
  2. How could the drought in California affect the entire country?
  3. What are two facts you can learn from the “Water Works” diagram?
  1. Why does the author include Joe Del Bosque’s personal story?
  2. How could the drought in California affect the entire country?
  3. What are two facts you can learn from the “Water Works” diagram?
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