• Sat. Dec 3rd, 2022

California farms face $3 billion in losses from historic drought – Orange County Register

ByPatricia S. Stevens

Nov 24, 2022

By Kim Chipman | Bloomberg

California’s worst drought has cost producers in the US’s leading agricultural state $3 billion in losses as producers prepare for wider water supply cuts.

According to a study commissioned by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the state’s driest three-year period on record resulted in crop losses after growers left a total of 1.3 million acres unplanted in 2021 and 2022 compared to 2019. That’s the most underutilized acreage in recent memory, with implications that stretch across the food industry.

The Central Valley — which grows about a quarter of all food in the US, including 40% of fruit and nuts — has borne the brunt of the losses so far. Things could get worse as the state’s southern agricultural areas, which depend on water from a shrinking Colorado River, are likely to see more fallow land in 2023, said Josue Medellin-Azuara, a professor at the University of California Merced who led the analysis.

“Strategic short-term land set-aside was the most common adjustment in cultivation decision during this drought,” the researchers said in the report. “Some crops such as rice and other field and grain crops showed an extended idle time,” while beef and milk production “were lower than they would have been.”

The estimated 752,000 acres of fallow fields in 2022 alone account for nearly 10% of California’s irrigated land researchers have surveyed. The growers also faced additional energy costs as water had to be pumped. The study is based on “water” years running from October to September.

COACHELLA, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: Farm workers clear out hoses used to irrigate an okra field on July 13, 2022 near Coachella, California.  According to the US Drought Monitor, more than 97 percent of the state of California's land area is in at least severe drought status, and nearly 60 percent is in at least severe drought status.  California is now in its third consecutive drought year amid a climate change-induced mega drought in the southwestern United States.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Farm workers clear out hoses used to irrigate an okra field July 13, 2022 near Coachella, California. According to the US Drought Monitor, more than 97 percent of the state of California’s land area is in at least severe drought status, and nearly 60 percent is in at least severe drought status. California is now in its third consecutive drought year amid a climate change-induced mega drought in the southwestern United States. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

California’s so-called senior water rights over other states have helped protect farmers who depend on the Colorado River from severe water shortages.

But as the basin, which supplies water to 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles, struggles with a mega-drought, states are being asked by the US government to come up with a water-saving plan. Federal officials are also considering measures that would allow them to order restrictions.

“The pressure for cuts is great,” Medellin-Azuara said in a phone interview. Looming water restrictions on agriculture in Southern California and Arizona are of particular concern because those regions grow lettuce and other vegetables that the rest of the country relies heavily on during the winter months.

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