California farms face $3 billion in losses from historic drought – Whittier Daily News

By Kim Chipman | Bloomberg

California’s worst drought has left growers in the top US agricultural state facing $3 billion in losses, just as growers brace for more widespread water outages.

The state’s driest three-year period on record resulted in lost crop revenue after growers left a total of 1.3 million acres unplanted during 2021 and 2022 compared to 2019, according to a study commissioned by the Department of California Food and Agriculture. That’s the most idle acreage in recent memory, with cascading effects in the food industry.

The Central Valley, which produces about a quarter of all US food, including 40% of its fruits and nuts, is bearing the brunt of the losses thus far. Things could get even worse, as agricultural areas in the southern part of the state that depend on water from a dwindling Colorado River are likely to experience more fallow in 2023, said Josué Medellín-Azuara, a professor at the University of California Merced who led the analysis.

“Short-term strategic land dormancy was the most common cropping decision adaptation in this drought,” the researchers said in the report. “Some crops such as rice and other field and cereal crops showed great inactivity”, while meat and milk productions were “lower than they would have been”.

The estimated 752,000 acres of fallow fields in 2022 alone represent nearly 10% of California’s irrigated land examined by the researchers. Producers also faced additional energy costs due to the need to pump water. The study is based on “water” years from October to September.

COACHELLA, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: Farm workers clean hoses that were 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 land area in the state of California is in at least severe drought, with nearly 60 percent in at least extreme drought.  California is now in a third straight year of drought amid a climate change-triggered mega-drought in the southwestern United States.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Farm workers clean hoses that were 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 land area in the state of California is in at least severe drought, with nearly 60 percent in at least extreme drought. California is now in a third straight year of drought amid a climate change-triggered 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 shutoffs.

But with the basin providing water to 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles facing a mega-drought, the US government is tasking states with coming up with a plan to conserve water. Federal officials are also considering steps that would allow them to impose restrictions.

“There is pressure for the cuts,” Medellín-Azuara said in a telephone interview. The looming water restrictions for agriculture in southern California and Arizona are especially troubling 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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