This is National Agriculture Week, and it’s appropriate that this year’s Madera District Chamber of Commerce Senior Farmer banquet will be in the middle of it, on Thursday, starting at 6 p.m., at Madera Municipal Golf Course’s banquet facility.
Farmer and raisin processor Sarkis Sahatdjian, 93, is this year’s Senior Farmer, and like past senior farmers, he has spent most of his working life not only operating his farm but helping to bring agriculture in the Madera Valley to its full fruition.
This may be the Golden Age of Madera County agriculture. Crops are abundant and prices for them, so far, are fair to good. Perennial crops such as grapes and nuts are being developed in highly productive ways. Processors and wineries are busier than ever.
The one big question, however, is water. Madera County farmers are dependent on irrigation. Irrigators must pump water from the ground or obtain it from reservoirs, through irrigation districts. Unfortunately, both sources are declining as you read this.
This year, farmers will get about 25 percent of the available surface water, with the rest going for environmental purposes, such as filling the San Joaquin River with enough to create a swift-running salmon stream. Good heavens, what an insane project — but we seem to be stuck with it.
Think about this during agriculture week: Does it make more economic sense to provide water to farms that drive much of the state’s economy — including billions of dollars in exports — or is it better to try to restore a relatively minor salmon run?
Yes, it would be nice to be able to catch salmon in the river again, but the door was slammed on that — some say wrongly — when Friant Dam was built. Now, we are faced with the cost of trying to repair one mistake with another.
Madera County’s farmers are scientists, business people, environmentalists and good citizens. We salute them during this, their week.