The Masumoto Family Farm grows organic peaches, nectarines and raisin grapes on 80 acres outside of Fresno, about 200 miles southeast of San Francisco. After five years of severe drought in California, irrigation is a challenge. Of the farm’s two sources – snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada and well water — the former has been absent and the latter reduced. Says third generation farmer Nikiko Masumoto, “The drought has really been affecting us. One of our wells is on its last legs, which is forcing us — no, inviting us — to think long-term about sustainable water use on our farm.”
Rather than dig deeper wells, the Masumotos have reduced the irrigation of their peach trees by 20 to 30 percent. “We’ve simply watered less,” says Nikiko, “We call it deficit irrigation.”
Deficit irrigation is an agroecological strategy for adapting crops to climate change by irrigating below plants’ evapotranspiration requirements, reducing drainage and helping to improve water use efficiency. The Masumotos have found that when applied to peaches, it results in smaller but sweeter fruit. The family now wonders whether in chasing bigger fruit, they and other farmers have actually been overwatering.
The Masumotos have embraced smaller peaches as part of a long-term philosophical shift, rather than a short-term solution to drought. They hope that consumers will think in these terms too. “We’ve had to work on branding small fruit to communicate what sustainable agriculture means now, in a changing climate, in our watershed,” says Nikiko. “It can be hard to see hope in terms of climate change, [but] one of the riches has been to witness firsthand the beauty and resilience of nature, and to observe just how incredible plants are at growing.”