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California Farmers’ Tequila Dreams

DESPERATE TIMES — How bad is California's drought? Bad enough to make farmers turn to tequila.

About 40 farmers and distillers gathered last week at an inaugural agave symposium at the University of California, Davis, to explore the prospects of growing agave in California and making alcohol from it.

Stuart Woolf, who grows almonds, pistachios and tomatoes, has a 1.5-acre test plot of about 900 agave plants at his farm on the southwest side of the Central Valley.

"Can we grow a bigger plant, with more sugar, with drip irrigation just using a little water?" he's asking. "More distilled spirits per acre than they can in Mexico?"

Agave isn't an ideal crop — like grapevines and nut trees, it takes several years to mature to the point where it can be harvested. And unlike grapes and nuts, once it's harvested, that's it — you have to plant a new one if you want more.