Water at the center of boycott over carrots

Market to Market | Clip
Oct 6, 2023 | 4 min

Lawsuit over fair water usage and rights looks to set precedent in California. 


September set another record for heat, adding to a string of hottest months recorded and keeping the globe positioned to have the hottest year recorded.

The European Space Agency’s Copernicus group showed last month’s temperatures were the highest above normal since records started being kept 83 years ago.

The U.S. was included in the planet’s hot weather distress. Dry weather added a 10th week of expansion to the Drought Monitor.  Areas affected by lack of moisture grew across the South from the Lower Mississippi Valley to the Southern Appalachians. 

Nearly all of California is currently out of drought. But leftovers from previous dry periods have pitted neighbor against neighbor over water with carrots being put in the crosshairs. 

Jeff Huckaby is president and CEO of Grimmway Farms, a company in the middle of the fight. 

Jeff Huckaby, president and CEO of Grimmway Farms: "We're proud to be growing in the Cuyama Valley, grow some of the best carrots in the nation, right here in the middle of the summer."

That product has drawn protests and calls for boycotts over treatment of the community. 

In 2014, California lawmakers changed from a hands off policy for groundwater regulation and began requiring management plans be approved by the state. 

Officials with control of now overdrawn basins were some of the first people to develop plans for sustainability of their groundwater. 

Lee Harrington lives in the central California town of New Cuyama (coo-YAH-ma) and is one of many farmers, ranchers and others being sued by Grimmway Farms and Bolthouse Land Company over the use of groundwater.

Lee Harrington, pistachio farmer: "They're good  farmers, you know, but the problem is they've been overdrafting ever since they've been here."

Legal bills for Harrington and others named in the suit have piled up as they push back against how much water beneath their feet they’ll be allowed to use.

Grimmway and Bolthouse initially supported the groundwater sustainability plan, but have since claimed other farmers are getting a pass and two years ago filed a lawsuit against area producers. Officials with both companies want the courts to determine what they call a more equitable solution to a reduction in pumping that is fair to everyone in the basin.

Harrington looks over his pistachio trees and is predicting a dire situation if corporations like Grimmway pull up stakes and leave the region. 

Lee Harrington, pistachio farmer: "The bottom line is, for the last 40 years, it was a huge pool. But now it's going down, down. And the pools will be empty. So then they're going to leave. And with they leaving, it's a Dust Bowl, it's going to turn to weeds, tumbleweeds. It's gonna be a nightmare."

Huckaby says Grimmway Farms - a resident of this region for more than three decades - has changed the way they water their fields to conserve the precious resource. 

Jeff Huckaby, president and CEO of Grimmway Farms: "We're going to adjust and work with, you know, whether it's the committees, the governments, whatever it has to,   to reduce the water that's necessary so that we can all be here for a long time."

For Market to Market, I’m David Miller.

Contact: Paul.Yeager@IowaPBS.org