Ranch hand Ricardo Madrigal feeds cattle on the Van Vleck Ranch in Rancho Murieta, California, February 12, 2014.
Ranch hand Ricardo Madrigal feeds cattle on the Van Vleck Ranch in Rancho Murieta, California, February 12, 2014.

“I feel like I've got a target on my back.”

This is the repeated phone call coming across the lines, says president of the California Farm Bureau, Paul Wenger, in an interview with Reuters.

After an executive order was issued by California’s Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. on April 1, for the state’s first ever mandatory water reductions, a lot of criticism has been issued, saying not enough pressure was put on agricultural producers. The executive order, which comes a little over a year from when Governor Brown proclaimed California in State of Emergency in January 2014, due to severe drought conditions, sets a goal of cutting water usage by 25 percent.

The executive order highlights water conservation through banning the watering of ornamental grass, cut backs on campuses, cemeteries and recreational parks, and a rebate program to assist in replacing old appliances with more effacement models.

The order also states, “Agricultural water users – which have borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocations and thousands of farmworkers laid off – will be required to report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state's ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste and unreasonable use of water under today’s order. Additionally, the Governor’s action strengthens standards for Agricultural Water Management Plans submitted by large agriculture water districts and requires small agriculture water districts to develop similar plans. These plans will help ensure that agricultural communities are prepared in case the drought extends into 2016.”

Since then, environmental groups have publicly criticized the state’s leading industry. However, California’s agricultural industry has already been taking a hit prior to the executive order due to historically low precipitation levels, with over 500,000 acres of farmland going out of production in the just in San Joaquin Valley alone this year, according to the California Farm Water Coalition (CFWC).

“Farmworkers who are at [the] very low end of the economic scale here are out of work,” Governor Brown says in an article by the LA Times. “There are people in agriculture areas that are really suffering,” noting that hitting agriculture harder by shutting off water would jeopardize “hundreds of thousands of people.”

A domino effect

In a breakdown by the CFWC, a non-profit organization founded in the heat of a six-year drought in 1989 to educate the public on farm water use, these figures are given:

  • $640 billion in goods are processed by the ports in Los Angeles, San Diego and Bay Area counties.
  • 1.6 million jobs throughout the Southern California region are related to the movement of goods.
  • More than 150 countries import California agricultural products such as almonds, rice, wine pistachios and walnuts.
  • California farmers and ranchers export 22 percent of the products that they produce.

Water supply + increased agricultural production = growing state economy

  • 9 percent of GDP is tied directly to agriculture and this grows to about 21 percent when we include the ripple effects.
  • When considering direct, indirect and induced effects, agricultural production and processing accounts for 6.8 percent of the state’s 20 percent million jobs, 6 percent of the state labor income, and 5.9 percent of the state value added.
  • 40 percent of Central Valley jobs are linked to farm processing
  • The San Joaquin Valley accounts for nearly 50 percent of the state’s agricultural output.
  • Each job in agricultural production and processing accounts for 2.2 jobs in the California economy as whole.
  • In the Central Valley, agricultural production and processing accounts for 22 percent of the private sector employment and 20.1 percent of the private sector labor income.

"Agriculture in California produces the food we all rely on," Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird told Reuters. "Folks want to point fingers, but we're all in this together."

Click here to view “California drought crisis,” a photo journalism story by CBS News.