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Latest News in Mendota, CA

California’s ‘Cantaloupe Center’ struggles to reign supreme as drought pummels agriculture across the West

MENDOTA, Calif. — This small town in California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley advertises itself as the “Cantaloupe Center of the World.” But as relentless drought punishes California and the West, the land is drying up and the cantaloupes are disappearing.Farmers have let large portions of their melon fields lie fallow as they struggle to get by on dramatically curtailed water supplies. Some are giving their vines barely enough water to stay alive in an effort to conserve. In other cases, fields that have a...

MENDOTA, Calif. — This small town in California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley advertises itself as the “Cantaloupe Center of the World.” But as relentless drought punishes California and the West, the land is drying up and the cantaloupes are disappearing.

Farmers have let large portions of their melon fields lie fallow as they struggle to get by on dramatically curtailed water supplies. Some are giving their vines barely enough water to stay alive in an effort to conserve. In other cases, fields that have already been planted will never get harvested because there’s not enough water for the fruit to survive.

“We could have fields that could burn up because of lack of water,” said Joe Del Bosque, who grows organic melons on a 2,000-acre farm near here and sells to high-end grocers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Del Bosque has cut back his melon crop by 20 percent this year.

“Melons are very moisture-sensitive and when they need water they will decline very quickly,” he said. “They basically shrivel up and die.”

Climate change and a devastating heat wave have decimated towns like Mendota this summer, and the carnage stretches far beyond fruit. Farmworkers are struggling to find employment, working fewer hours or driving long distances for jobs. Fewer workers means less spending in the community. Less money for farm suppliers, restaurants, and the small shops where people wire money to family members in Mexico and Central America. Without the water everyone needs to survive, a sense of anxiety pervades about what the future will bring.

“There’s very little work,” said Teofrido Fraga, 65, a longtime farmworker who used an old straw cowboy hat to shield himself from the baking afternoon sun at an auto repair shop operated by Mendota’s mayor, Rolando Castro.

Fraga, a native of Michoacan, Mexico, said that he has labored in the local fields for more than 40 years, but it’s getting harder to find work even as he himself slows down. Still, “while I can move, I say I have to work,” Fraga said in Spanish.

At a small grocery and wire transfer store nearby, Hortencia Aceves, 52, said that sending money back home is an obligation for local residents, not a luxury they can do without. “People have to send money to their loved ones — they have to eat,” said Aceves. “So maybe instead of $100 it’s $80.”

Population growth has slowed in Mendota, a onetime boom town thrumming with life and surrounded by lush green fields. Dusty streets give way to parched brown tracts, and agriculture packing plants sit empty and padlocked on barren lots. Mayor Castro predicted that without more water, Mendota and other nearby rural communities will turn into “ghost towns” within the next five years.

“We need people here. I don’t want to be a ghost town,” Castro said. “If there’s no water, where are they gonna work?

Versions of Mendota’s story are playing out all over California and the West as the region parches and sizzles under nearly unprecedented drought and heat. Farmers are bulldozing citrus groves and grinding up the trees because they can’t water them, walking away from acres of farmland, selling off herds of cattle, and abandoning annual crops like tomatoes and onions to focus on nut trees they’ve sunk years of money, labor and water into already. It’s a menu of bad options that hurts growers and the communities they are part of, while hiking the prices of food at grocery stores.

“When you have rising temperatures, you’ve got early snowmelt, you’ve got low rainfall, you’ve got wildfires. It is a toxic mix for California agriculture,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said while visiting a farm near here earlier this month. “And for that matter for all of American agriculture because of the role California plays.”

Vilsack said in an interview that the federal government’s agriculture aid programs, many designed to address temporary problems, must be re-examined to fit what is emerging as the new normal: droughts, heat waves and wildfires that are much lengthier, fiercer and more routine than in the past.

“I think we as policymakers need to understand that this is the new reality that we’re facing,” Vilsack said. “Are the programs we have appropriate, and if not, how do we change them?”

Ninety-five percent of California — which grows around two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts, including some 75 percent of U.S. cantaloupes — is now categorized as being in “severe drought” or higher, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center’s U.S. Drought Monitor, a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The percentage of the West in the worst category, “exceptional drought,” has never been higher since the monitor began in 2000.

For farmers like Joe Del Bosque, the immediate goal is to somehow make it through this growing season by juggling an array of strategies such as planting fewer crops, pumping unsustainable quantities of groundwater and purchasing water at five times its normal cost from neighbors who have some to spare. But the real concern is what happens if there is not enough snow again this winter to refresh California’s water supply, and the drought continues — something meteorologists are already predicting. Many don’t know if they’ll be able to survive another dry year at all.

“There’s a few times where I just want to go and crawl into a hole, I just don’t know what to do,” said Del Bosque, 72, who started his farm in 1985 and has grown it painstakingly into a profitable enterprise that employs several hundred workers. Del Bosque and his wife have six daughters and hope to hand their farm over to the next generation. Whether that will be possible is now an open question that keeps Del Bosque up at night worrying about where the water will come from, and if there will be enough.

“Everything I’ve worked for the last 36 years is on the line,” Del Bosque said during a break from the grim work of inspecting melon fields that need more water and almond trees that are on the brink.

“This year will do damage, is doing damage, for a lot of the family farms,” said Dave Puglia, head of Western Growers, which represents farmers in California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. “If the situation does not improve and we have a similar situation next year, we’ll lose a large number of family farms and they won’t come back because there’s no cushion. ”

With the bleak realities of climate change now impossible to ignore, Vilsack and others are calling for the West’s water stakeholders to come together for new solutions about how to become even more efficient with water, and do more with less. At the large ranch in Helm, Calif., that Vilsack visited this month, owner Don Cameron has worked for years on a complex system of pumps aimed at capturing floodwaters and diverting them into the soil.

This year there is no floodwater to collect. But even as climate change brings tremendous drought, it can also produce the other extremes: raging storms, and winters that have less snow but more rain — precious water that must be captured and put to use.

“I firmly believe we will have floodwater again, because with climate change you experience not only the increased temperatures and the droughts,” Cameron said. “The flooding should also be more intense.”

A drought emergency was declared for most of the state of California in May, with most farmers receiving none of their usual irrigation water allotment. Because of that, farmers have turned to more expensive groundwater, pumping an additional 6 or 7 million acre-feet of water over usual amounts from their wells this year — an amount that far exceeds what the aquifer can replenish, experts say. Earlier this month, California’s State Water Resources Control Board announced it was reducing the amount of water farmers can draw from rivers and streams, further eliminating places for farmers and ranchers to turn.

That decision stirred controversy, some directed at Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall election next month, and has urged California residents to conserve water but not imposed any mandates. Central Valley roadways are dotted with “Recall Newsom” signs. The governor’s office had no immediate comment on farmers’ complaints.

Experts say California will see a drop in agricultural production this year, especially on lower-value crops that farmers may have chosen not to grow in favor of higher-value products like almonds, pistachios and grapes. Some crops, such as leafy greens, may migrate out of the state to places with more hospitable climates.

Although it’s difficult to quantify the economic impact of this year’s drought while it’s underway, Western Growers says that drought conditions between 2014 and 2016 in California resulted in the fallowing of a half-million acres of farmland and losses of $3.8 billion in statewide economic activity. At the same time, the state is contending with other climate change-related disasters. Last year alone, storms and wildfires caused at least $560.5 million in crop damage in the state that went unreimbursed, according to USDA data.

Over the last two decades, three out of four years in California and the American West have been drought years, with a half-century warming trend superimposed on that, said Brad Rippey, a USDA meteorologist at the World Agricultural Outlook Board and one of the authors of the U.S. Drought Monitor. He said the dramatic warming trend is “too much for the system to handle” and that the country is already seeing movement of crops and changes in farming techniques as a result.

“The problem in the West becomes water supply — you can get water from the sky, ground or reservoirs,” Rippey said. “When you have drought, you can’t get it from the sky; chronic drought and you can’t get it from the ground.”

Back in Mendota, Mayor Castro and other longtime residents of the area remember when the surrounding fields were verdant and the abundance of cantaloupe provided work for anyone who wanted it. In recent years cantaloupe production in California and the United States has slowed, and many cantaloupes sold in the United States are now imported from Central America — a trend this year’s drought threatens to accelerate.

As for Mendota’s claim to be the “Cantaloupe Center of the World” — a slogan still emblazoned on the municipal crest — Castro acknowledged that “I can’t say that anymore.”

Huge pot farm raided in Mendota; approximately 50,000 plants seized

MENDOTA, Calif. — Fresno County Sheriff's undercover detectives were in Mendota Friday morning, after uncovering what they called "the most elaborate marijuana grow" they've ever seen in their careers.Detectives said they were seizing approximately 50,000 marijuana plants from farmland in Mendota. The FCSO says whoever is behind this invested heavily in the facil...

MENDOTA, Calif. — Fresno County Sheriff's undercover detectives were in Mendota Friday morning, after uncovering what they called "the most elaborate marijuana grow" they've ever seen in their careers.

Detectives said they were seizing approximately 50,000 marijuana plants from farmland in Mendota. The FCSO says whoever is behind this invested heavily in the facilities infrastructure.

20 greenhouses were found at the location, along with two guns and plenty of living quarters that could have housed up to 10 to 15 people.

“It’s the biggest greenhouse grow I’ve ever seen, it’s the most sophisticated one I’ve ever seen, that's for sure,” said an anonymous Narcotics Unit Sergeant.

So far, seven of the FCSO’s 4,000-pound trailers have been filled with marijuana plants. They expect to fill about nine trailers in total.

“The sophistication level and the complexity of the build, really expensive, basically it was a greenhouse within a greenhouse,” said the Sergeant, “The water was plumbed well, it was done really well, they expended quite a bit of money and time on this project.”

Fresno County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived with a search warrant around 6 a.m. Friday, but nobody was on the property.

“We believe about 10 to 15 people regularly reside here,” said the Sergeant.

Detectives say they found living quarters, one handgun, and one shotgun.

“It has all the earmarks of a cartel operation,” said the Sergeant, “It’s very organized, the structures are very complex and sophisticated, we can tell based on the way the layout of the residents are and everything, that there is a leader here and then there are worker bees.”

The Sheriff’s Office estimates the operation has a street value of $100 million.

“All this marijuana is going to be sold on the street and not one dime of it is going to be taxed like the intent of the law,” said the Sergeant.

The Narcotics Unit discovered the compound a few days ago through aerial helicopter surveillance.

“It’s pretty much a happy accident that we found it,” said the Sergeant, “It’s a win for us, it’s a loss for the cartels or whoever the crook is that is running this deal.”

The Sergeant says the Sheriff’s Office collected evidence from inside the living quarters on the property. Next, they’ll be using that evidence to try to catch whoever is behind the operation.

The narcotics unit sergeant says because of Proposition 64, which legalized cannabis use for adults in 2014, if the people responsible for the grow operation are caught, they'll face only misdemeanor charges.

The law says selling marijuana without a license can land you up to six months in jail, plus a $500 fine.

The punishment is the same for anyone who cultivates more than six marijuana plants.

So far, no arrests have been made.

Mendota High keeps knocking Riverdale out of section playoffs

The road to the the CIF Central Section Division IV boys soccer title still goes through Mendota High, as No. 2-seeded Riverdale High discovered Friday night in a quarterfinal match.The visiting Aztecs welcomed a header from junior Amilcar Pineda on a corner kick with 15 minutes left in the game and another goal from Wilberto Amador to crash Riverdale’s title hopes for the fifth time in the last six seasons.The 2-0 victory at Jack King Field to a semifinal match Tuesday (Feb. 22) against Fowler (18-5-1) in a Division IV d...

The road to the the CIF Central Section Division IV boys soccer title still goes through Mendota High, as No. 2-seeded Riverdale High discovered Friday night in a quarterfinal match.

The visiting Aztecs welcomed a header from junior Amilcar Pineda on a corner kick with 15 minutes left in the game and another goal from Wilberto Amador to crash Riverdale’s title hopes for the fifth time in the last six seasons.

The 2-0 victory at Jack King Field to a semifinal match Tuesday (Feb. 22) against Fowler (18-5-1) in a Division IV draw that was rocked Thursday by top-seeded Farmersville High’s 2-0 loss to McLane High.

McLane travels to Selma on Tuesday.

First-year Mendota head coach Luis Del Río, following a scoreless opening half, added an extra forward to put the pressure on Riverdale, whose only loss coming into the match was 1-0 to a strong Kerman High squad.

“We saw their formations. That’s why we put more attackers in the second half, and that gave us the victory,” said Del Río.

Mendota’s 20-6-1 record is misleading because a couple of the losses were given when the team couldn’t get to a tournament because of fog.

“We’ve had a great season,” said Del Río, whose team was seeded 10th.

He called Riverdale a team that plays “with heart and passion.”

“They are tough. We don’t know why, but we always win.”

Riverdale coach Gabriel Arámbula is trying to figure out how to get past Mendota.

“I felt pretty confident that we were going to score, so their first goal came like cold water,” said Arámbula. “They executed that corner kick and left us down 1-0 with 15 minutes to go.”

Riverdale, which has been led all season by senior forward Ismael González and his team-leading 25 goals, couldn’t get shots past Mendota goalkeeper Ángel Torres.

The Cowboys, who end the season with a 22-2-1 record, had to push the offense to search for the equalizing goal.

Arámbula said Mendota deserved to be seeded as high as fourth in Division IV.

“They are really good,” said Arámbula. “This division is pretty tough. It’s up the air for anybody.”

Pineda was in the right spot on the corner kick by Adrián Álvaro.

“I knew he was going to send it to the middle, so I just went there and put my head on it,” said Pineda.

Mendota boy earns college degree before even graduating from high school

MENDOTA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Getting through high school is a challenge on its own - but imagine adding college courses, a global pandemic, and a full-time job.That's exactly what Antonio Cruz did.Last week, Cruz graduated from West Hills College with an Associate's degree in agriculture science, and on Thursday night he's graduating from Mendota High School."I am graduating with my associates before I even get my high school diploma and being able to say that is very amazing," he says.As a freshman, he enr...

MENDOTA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Getting through high school is a challenge on its own - but imagine adding college courses, a global pandemic, and a full-time job.

That's exactly what Antonio Cruz did.

Last week, Cruz graduated from West Hills College with an Associate's degree in agriculture science, and on Thursday night he's graduating from Mendota High School.

"I am graduating with my associates before I even get my high school diploma and being able to say that is very amazing," he says.

As a freshman, he enrolled in Wonderful Education's Agriculture Career Prep program, allowing him to complete both in four years.

It wasn't easy, but Cruz says he always knew prioritizing his education would unlock opportunities.

"A lot of work out here is fieldwork and I didn't want that for myself. That is why I wanted to stick to my education and when the time is right, have a good job."

His mother couldn't be prouder and says on top of college courses and dealing with the pandemic, her son stepped up when their family needed it most.

His parents got divorced about a year ago, so Cruz added a full-time job at a packing house to his plate - all to make ends meet.

"I didn't want to see her struggle so I knew I had to grow up faster and be the father figure for my brother and sister," he says.

"Very few students can say we worked, we helped our mother or father and I did high school, I did college," says mom Monica Gutierrez.

Cruz admits there were days when just getting out of bed was a struggle, but he persevered.

"I would say he is a great example of the type of student who can get this done and he was successful and we are all very proud of him," says Mendota High School principal Travis Kirby.

Cruz says he's thankful for all the support he's had along the way.

"With family, friends I was able to do it and without them, I don't think I would have," he says.

And Thursday night, they'll be cheering him on from the stands as he closes this chapter and prepares for the next one as a computer engineering major at Fresno State.

"Him walking tonight is something big for me, very big," says his mom.

The graduation ceremony will be at 7:30 on Thursday night. Friends and family can also watch it live on YouTube.

CDFW Prepares to Welcome Dove Hunters to Wildlife Areas Sept. 1

California’s dove season opens Wednesday, Sept. 1, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has prepared crop fields at many of its most popular wildlife areas throughout the state to attract doves and provide productive dove hunting opportunities for the public.“It looks like it’s going to be a good opener in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Ben Lewis, Upland Game Coordinator for CDFW’s Central Region, which includes the Los Banos Wildlife Area, the Mendota Wildlife Area, the North Grasslan...

California’s dove season opens Wednesday, Sept. 1, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has prepared crop fields at many of its most popular wildlife areas throughout the state to attract doves and provide productive dove hunting opportunities for the public.

“It looks like it’s going to be a good opener in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Ben Lewis, Upland Game Coordinator for CDFW’s Central Region, which includes the Los Banos Wildlife Area, the Mendota Wildlife Area, the North Grasslands Wildlife Area and other popular dove hunting hotspots. “We’ve seen really strong numbers from our dove banding efforts. The weather is holding right now. We haven’t had any cold snaps that would move the birds out. The birds that are here should stay here for the opener.”

All of CDFW’s most popular wildlife areas for dove hunting will be open to the public during the first half of the dove season, which extends from Sept. 1 through 15, 2021. The season will be closed from Sept. 16 through Nov. 12, and then open again from Nov. 13 through Dec. 27. Food plots planted for dove typically consist of wheat, safflower or sunflower. The food and habitat benefit a variety of different bird and wildlife species throughout the year beyond dove. Drought conditions may have impacted crop production in fields that weren’t irrigated. Preseason scouting is strongly encouraged where allowed.

CDFW areas planted with crops and open to public dove hunting Sept. 1 include Upper Butte Basin, Gray Lodge, Oroville, Yolo Bypass, Spenceville, North Grasslands, Mendota, Los Banos and Imperial Valley wildlife areas, and the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve. Several CDFW wildlife areas have dove hunting maps available at their individual web pages. Printed maps are available at some check station locations.

Entry procedures vary from area to area, so hunters are advised to call ahead in preparing for their hunt.

Portions of the Los Banos and North Grasslands wildlife areas in Merced County, including the Salt Slough and China Island units, are restricted to special permit holders until noon on Sept. 1, after which they open to public hunting the remainder of the first dove season.

Southern California’s Imperial Valley offers some of the best dove hunting found anywhere in the nation. Imperial County provides additional public hunting opportunities on various fields planted with agricultural crops to attract doves. A map of the Upland Game Fields of Imperial County (PDF) is available on CDFW’s website.

CDFW also offers a number of special dove hunts throughout the first and second dove seasons on public and private land through a lottery on its Online License Sales and Services website. Descriptions of these hunts are available at CDFW’s Upland Game Wild Bird Hunts and SHARE Program pages.

Due to safeguards and limitations necessitated by COVID-19, CDFW asks all hunters to please respect physical distancing from other hunters and adhere to all site-specific rules and regulations.

In ongoing monitoring efforts, preliminary results show a strong statewide dove banding effort in 2021. More than 2,500 doves have been banded compared to the 1,861 birds banded in 2020. Hunters who encounter a banded bird are asked to report it to the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Lab (reportband.gov). Banded birds are part of important biological monitoring and reporting of bands completes the process. After reporting, hunters will receive a certificate of appreciation identifying the general capture location, estimated age of the bird and other information.

Mourning doves are among the most numerous of any upland game bird species. California hunters harvested almost 700,00 mourning doves during the 2020-21 hunting season. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the total mourning dove population among seven western states, including California, at more than 33 million birds.

The Sept. 1 dove opener marks the traditional start of California’s hunting season and typically brings together multiple generations of family and friends to participate in one of California’s most anticipated hunting seasons of the year.

The dove opener often is the first hunting season for new hunters who have recently completed Hunter Education. Doves concentrate in and around agricultural areas and can provide fast, challenging action. Minimal equipment is required beyond a valid California hunting license, an upland game bird validation (for hunters 18 and older), a shotgun of almost any gauge, nonlead ammunition, sun protection and plenty of water to stay hydrated in typically hot weather. Doves, delicious on the table, are many hunters’ favorite wild game species to eat.

California is home to several species of dove. Mourning dove and white-winged dove have a daily bag limit of 15, up to 10 of which may be white-winged dove. The possession limit is triple the daily bag limit. There are no limits on spotted dove and ringed turtle doves. Hunting for Eurasian collard-dove is legal year-round with no limit. A Dove Identification guide (PDF) is available at CDFW’s website.

Shooting hours for dove begin one-half hour before sunrise and end at sunset.

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Media Contacts: Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 215-3858 Megan Crane, CDFW Upland Game Program, (916) 373-8827

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