One kind of drought ends for California farms, but another — of immigrants to work in the fields — now looms

FIREBAUGH, Calif. — There were moments when Joe Del Bosque wondered if his farm could survive.

For six long years, Del Bosque, the son of migrant farmworkers who has worked the land his entire life, watched as his 2,000-acre farm here in California’s Central Valley slowly dried up, the victim of a near-biblical drought that many likened to a modern version of the Dust Bowl, when every single drop of water was a precious commodity.

It was here on one of Del Bosque’s dusty, barren cantaloupe fields that President Barack Obama strolled on a Friday afternoon three years ago to illustrate his call for action on climate change. Del Bosque had invited the president in the hopes he might wade into the tricky politics of California’s water allocation rules to ease environmental regulations, giving farmers more access to what little water the state did have. It didn’t happen, but the visit made Del Bosque the face of a drought that threatened to destroy farming in a region that provides half the nation’s fruit and vegetables.

Then something miraculous happened. Late last year, all over California, it began to rain, and in the Sierra Nevada, it began to snow — historic storms that replenished streams and reservoirs that supply water for much of the state. Suddenly, the Central Valley was green and lush, the soil fertile and fully ready for planting in a way that farmers hadn’t experienced since 2011. But with the passing of one crisis came another worry.

“Now we have the water we need,” Del Bosque said on a recent afternoon as he walked a reporter through a melon field he was getting ready to plant. “But now I don’t know if we have the people we need to pick the crops.”

President Trump’s pledge to crack down on illegal immigration has sent chills through the Central Valley, where farmers like Del Bosque rely heavily on migrant farm labor to plant, tend and pick their crops. Though there’s no complete tally, a recent Department of Agriculture…

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