Changes need to be made to the criteria for “Small Farms Irrigation Rate,” not because it makes good political showmanship, but because agricultural practices have changed. When the “Small Farms Irrigation Rate” (SFIR) was developed 15 years ago, Micro Farms, also referred to as “Small Farms,” used lower-density planting. Higher-density planting is now used. The criteria should be revised to reflect that change.
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When the criteria was developed it was not meant to remain the same indefinitely, it was intended to be a starting point and to change as Micro Farming practices changed. It was also understood that revisions would need to be made to correct any defects or abuses of the rate.
The criteria were meant to require Micro Farmers to have enough of a financial vested interest so that they would have an economic incentive to continue farming of the land. The criteria to qualify for the established SFIR should be revised to eliminate those that are taking advantage of this rate class to have large landscapes and at the same time not destroy Micro Farms.
History is a wonderful tool in understanding where we are, how we got here and where we should go in the future.
In the 1950s the district entered into a contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to purchase 23,000 acre-feet of water annually for 20 years. Part of the contractual agreement was that 87 ½ percent of the water was to be used for irrigation of crops and 12 ½ percent to be used for municipal and industrial use. The contract also had a clause that if the district could not demonstrate a need for the water we would lose it, “Use It or Lose It.”
Commercial irrigation was not using their allotted amount so a program was developed to encourage Micro Farms to plant crops and utilize the additional water. The program was successful and as a result we still have the rights to that 23,000 acre-feet of water that is currently being used in our homes. Also as a result of this program Apple Hill and wineries became major economic industries in our county.
As time passed residential use came to dominate the use of this water and the SFIR was developed in 1999 to replace the previous program and reflect current Micro Farming practices. The SFIR was intended to allow those Micro Farmers that were actively farming under the previous program to continue and allow new Micro Farms to develop and expand our economy.
Micro Farms are a critical part of our community, economy and our “Quality of Life.” Before we start changing the economics that these small businesses were built on we need look at the history of this segment of our economy and make changes that will make Micro Farms stronger. Remember, if it were not for Micro Farms utilizing the excess water we would not have the right to that water and it would be flowing down to Sacramento Valley homes today.
Now, 15 years later, our county and economy have continued to change, it is time to reevaluate the SFIR and make revisions (not destroy the Micro Farms) to reflect current conditions and concerns.
Bill Snodgrass is the retired El Dorado County Agricultural commissioner and served at the time EID created the Small Farms Irrigation Rate.