Lack of rain leaves dairy farmer high and dry

February 10, 2009 7:39:05 PM PST
For all the homeowners who worry about their lawns turning brown in this upcoming season of drought, there are some people with much bigger worries. Farmers and ranchers will face rationing, as well. In Sonoma County, some of them are already dealing with shortages that could put them out of business.

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These days, when Don DeBernardi looks at the sky above his Sonoma County farm, it is usually exercise in skeptic optimism.

"Well they said it was supposed to rain yesterday, and it didn't rain yesterday," said DeBernardi, a dairy farmer.

Here is a man unimpressed by winter grass turned green, because in a year of drought, it grows low. The collected water that should be overflowing from his dams is almost gone.

"That is probably a month's supply if we're lucky," said DeBernardi.

It's the worldview of a lifelong family dairy farmer. Don DeBernardi raised his children here, and hopes to pass it down to them. They still work in the office. No wonder DeBernardi worries himself to sleep night, which worries his wife, Bonnie, with every breath.

"To watch him sometimes is frightening. He gets so nervous there are nights that he doesn't sleep and I worry about him having a heart attack," says Bonnie.

Dairy farmers say in this region it hasn't been this dry since the drought of 1976. They worry that this season, it could be worse.

"I mean, you could have the best piece of ground in the world, but if you have no water, it ain't going to work is it?" says DeBernardi.

This winter is so dry that DeBernardi has already taken to hauling truckloads of water around his property. If that water runs out, he's may have to pay $1,500 a day to import it. That comes at a time when he's paying top dollar for feed, while world demand for his milk has cut those wholesale prices almost in half.

"It's like my husband says, 'It doesn't pencil out,'" says Bonnie.

"It's not a pretty sight to sit out here and look out here at your cattle knowing that you may not be able to have then any longer, you know," says DeBernardi.

The DeBernardi's just hope it doesn't come to that, but first their relive or at least a reprieve, must come from above.

"This is something I did all my life. Do you want to go down with a drought and say this is the end of it? No," says DeBernardi.

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