Westside farmer who puts his fields underwater is named the Agriculturist of the Year

An innovative west Fresno County farmer, who has become a leader in replenishing groundwater supplies, has been named the Fresno Chamber of Commerce’s Agriculturist of the Year.

Don Cameron of Terranova Ranch in Helm is one of the region’s more diversified growers, producing almonds, wine grapes, processing tomatoes, pistachios, walnuts, carrots, onions and lettuce seed on about 7,500 acres.

The Agriculturist of the Year award is given to a farmer or rancher who exemplifies leadership and integrity in the San Joaquin Valley’s agriculture industry.

Nathan Ahle, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, said Cameron represents those qualities and more. Ahle announced the award Thursday at the Agriculture Building at the Big Fresno Fair .

“The chamber is honored to recognize Don Cameron for over four decades of service to the ag industry,” Ahle said. “Having represented our community by testifying before Congress, serving as a board member and chairman of countless ag groups and being a leader in ag technology in our area, Mr. Cameron is a more than worthy addition to the long list of accomplished agriculturists of the year.”

Also honored Thursday was Bee Sweet Citrus of Fowler as recipient of the 2017 Baker Peterson Franklin Ag Business Award. Bee Sweet was honored for its achievements and impact on the industry and local community.

Cameron’s work on recharging the depleted groundwater supplies on the westside has been groundbreaking. He and others see it as a viable option for allowing farmers to keep producing during drought. Recently, farmers struggled through a five-year drought that left them with little to no surface water.

To keep their operations going, farmers relied heavily on pumping groundwater, seriously depleting supplies. That’s what has made Cameron’s work in groundwater recharge so important.

What he’s done is flood his fields with runoff water from the Kings River. This year he applied several acre-feet of water to almonds, wine grapes and olives. The water he took off the river helped prevent floods downstream while also recharging the aquifer below.

So far, Cameron has not experienced any major problems to his yields or the health of the trees or vineyards.

He’s also working on a multimillion-dollar recharge project in conjunction with Sustainable Conservation and the Kings River Conservation District that will involve flooding 20,000 acres of farm land.

“We have to be better prepared and better resilient because we don’t know what is coming,” Cameron said.

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

Ag Awards Luncheon

This year’s award recipients will be honored at the Fresno Chamber of Commerce’s Ag Awards Luncheon at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017 at the Clovis Veteran’s Memorial District, 808 4th St, Clovis. Tickets for the event are available by visiting the chamber website or emailing