California Drought

California Drought IMG: via Shutterstock.

The 2014 drought in California, the third most severe on record, has brought with it a plague of new problems for the state. The drought has cost California’s economy $2.2 billion, according to a report from the University of California, Davis.

The UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences study updates estimates on the drought’s effects on Central Valley farm production, presents new data on the state’s coastal and southern farm areas, and forecasts the drought’s economic fallout through 2016.

The study found that the drought is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture, with river water for Central Valley farms reduced by roughly one-third. California produces about half of US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables and nearly a quarter of the nation’s milk and cream. Consumers across the nation regularly buy several crops grown almost entirely in California, including tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, almonds, walnuts, grapes, olives and figs.

The direct costs to agriculture total $1.5 billion, or about 3 percent of the state’s total agricultural value. Aside from the loss of valuable crops, the drought has also caused another huge problem: the loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs related to agriculture. The lost jobs represent about 3.8 percent of farm unemployment.

Roughly 428,000 acres (5%) of irrigated cropland has gone out of production in the Central Valley, Central Coast and Southern California. The Central Valley is being hit the hardest, particularly the Tulare Basin, with projected losses of $810 million (2.3%) in crop revenue, $203 million in dairy and livestock value, and $453 million in additional well-pumping costs.

What’s worse is that the drought is likely to continue through 2015, regardless of El Niño conditions. If this happens, overdraft of groundwater is expected to cause additional wells in the Tulare Basin to run dry. Fortunately, consumer food prices of high-value California crops will continue to be largely unaffected. Higher prices at the grocery store will be driven more by market demand than by the drought; however, lower supply could ultimately lead to higher demand—so only time will tell what the true effects will be. One thing is for certain: this drought won’t bring with it anything good for California farmers.