Tom Barcellos milks 800 cows and farms 1,200 acres in central California. But after five years of extreme drought, he’s experiencing severe economic strain.

Barcellos: “The biggest challenge with the drought has been the fact we haven’t had enough surface water to farm all of the land.”

To adapt, Barcellos is growing sorghum grass as a feed crop instead of corn, because it requires less water. But it’s less efficient and cannot feed as many cows. So he must buy – instead of grow – the rest of what he needs.

Barcellos: “… and then of course we’ve had anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of the land unfarmed.”

… which means he’s had to lay off employees. And pay taxes on land that provides no income.

But Barcellos’ farm has been in his family since the 1940s, so he wants to stick it out.

Barcellos: “My son-in-law and daughters are involved. I have grandsons and granddaughters that love to be on the farm, and around the cows. So I’m sure out of those, there will be one or two or more that want to continue. And I’ll do everything that I can to help them do so.”

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That means he must find new ways to adapt so one day, he can pass his farm on to his children and grandchildren.

Reporting credit: Analeah Rosen/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Sorghum crop photo: Copyright protected.

Sara Peach

Sara Peach is the Senior Editor of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist, and...