A luncheon Thursday honored agricultural leaders and provided scholarships to students headed for the field.
The Ceres Chamber of Commerce held its 29th annual Agribusiness Awards Luncheon, recognizing people who work in food production and related ventures in and near the city. The event drew about 200 people to the Ceres Community Center and featured a talk on this year’s drought.
Diamond Bar Arena, a horse complex on Central Avenue, received the Agribusiness of the Year Award. Wine-grape grower Triana Berryhill won the Agribusinesswoman of the Year Award, and Central Valley High School ag teacher Ken Moncrief was named Agribusinessman of the Year.
The inaugural Grant Lucas Memorial Award, named for a longtime farmer and civic leader, went to peach grower Scott Long.
Ceres is part of the Turlock Irrigation District, which has cut deliveries by about half this year to deal with the drought. Conditions are much worse in the parts of the San Joaquin Valley facing zero water this year from the federal Central Valley Project.
The cutoff has worsened poverty in a region that already was struggling, said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition and a Modesto resident.
He told of a service station owner in the Fresno County community of Huron who laid off five of his eight employees because farmers are no longer buying fuel. Citrus and lettuce producers are hurting, too, he said.
“Because we don’t have water to grow crops, we can’t employ people on farms in seasonal and full-time jobs,” Wade said. He cited an initial estimate by UC Davis that the drought will cause $1.7 billion in losses to agriculture this year.
Wade said California farmers face the misconception that they waste water, when in fact they have trimmed their use by 14 percent since 1967 while almost doubling production.
The chamber awarded $500 scholarships to four Central Valley High students – Marian Diaz, Hallie Magarite Donart, Ernest Cuevas and Esteban Villafan.
The crowd also heard about the Ceres Agriculture Center, a 6.5-acre farm that provides crop-growing experience for students in the Ceres Unified School District and supplies food for cafeterias.