Maybe it was the inch or so of rain that had fallen during the previous several days, or maybe the perpetual optimism that goes with being a farmer of any kind.
Either way, there was no panic about the worst drought to hit California in over 100 years among dairy producers I talked to this week at World Ag Expo in Tulare. Concern yes, but not fear.
There are huge reasons to be terrified if worst-case scenarios come to pass, but the producers I visited with didn't have it. Yes, there are worries, but they are pretty much limited to the impact it could have on local forage supplies and prices. All said they have good wells and normal water tables.
There was great agreement that many acres of crops will not be planted this spring because of anticipated water shortages that will make it pointless to do so. One local farming newspaper editor said he thinks it will be 1 million or more.
Farmers with trees or vineyards are in a more difficult position, since keeping assets alive is a much different proposition than not planting a crop. They must have water.
This situation played out in stunning fashion a week before Expo in the Bakersfield area an hour south. A small water district there found it had 12,000 acre-feet of water it wouldn't be able to use, so it held an auction to sell it.
The results were startling.
State project water costs about $200 per acre-foot. Bidders in the auction could bid on all or part of what was available, and the offers exceeded all expectations. Fifty bids were submitted, including one for all of what was available, and they totaled 65,000 acre-feet. The lowest bid made was $600 per acre-foot. Seventeen bids were for at least $1,000. The highest bid was $1,350.
Winners are expected to be announced next week.
The author has served large Western dairy readers for the past 36 years and manages Hoard's WEST, a publication written specifically for Western herds. He is a graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, majored in journalism and is known as a Western dairying specialist.