The Petty Ranch

For just over 100 years the Petty family has owned a ranch nestled among the orchards of Saticoy, California. Originally from Washington D.C., Susan Petty moved to Ohio to earn her Bachelor of Fine Arts as a painter before moving to the ranch, where she has lived with no regrets for nearly 37 years. At 57 acres, the ranch contains mostly avocados and lemons as a poly-crop, since the two have a symbiotic relationship that assists one to grow successfully when adjacent to the other. For the first time in Petty’s memory the extreme heat and lack of rain are extensively impacting her crops. Despite recent storms in Southern California the state is still far below its average rainfall amount.

“We are mostly tree farmers,” Petty says. “We are noticing that the trees are stressed. We do water them a lot but the fruit being produced is smaller and there is less of it.”

In the past, Petty and her farmhands would only need to irrigate the crops once or twice during the winter to keep them hydrated, but now due to Southern California receiving less than an inch of rain the trees need to be watered almost daily to stay alive. However, that isn’t the only complication.

“The trees being stressed makes them more open to bugs and infections,” Petty says. “It’s just like any of us getting sick, it makes them weak.”

According to the California Department of Water Resources, the 2014 Water Year is the state’s third driest in 119 years.  A water year is based on a nine month period from October 1 through September 30 of the following calendar year.

Despite the drought making her crop yield less produce and forcing her to adjust the way she is growing them, Petty still tries to remain optimistic.

“We are doing what we can to sustain the trees a little smaller,” she says. “A little smaller but a little denser so that there is less evaporation.”

Despite the lack of rain that normally would be helping the crops, Petty is confident that the climate in Southern California is able to produce excellent soil and hopes that her farmland isn’t taken over by real estate. “People are fine with getting their food from Mexico or South America yet they forget that this is one of the best places to grow fresh produce,” Petty said.