The California Drought

February 27th, 2014 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on The California Drought

droughtCalifornia is the top agricultural producer in the U.S., generating $44.7 billion in annual sales. The California drought, however, is expected to make quite a dent in this year’s revenues, with losses reaching $5 billion, according to some estimates. The state recorded its driest year ever in 2013 – the third straight year of very little water. In late January, California reservoirs were at 61 percent of average, and in early January, records show that the mountain snow-pack (which supplies most of the state’s water) was at 20 percent of normal for that time of year. The average rainfall last year in California was 7 inches, the lowest on record going back to 1895. Unfortunately dry weather is expected to continue through 2014.

The drought is hurting far more than just fresh produce. It’s really affecting just about every area of California agriculture as well, including milk, beef, wine, and nuts (particularly almonds).

It’s expected that California farmers will leave as much as 500,000 acres unplanted this year, as they simply won’t have enough water to produce their crops. That’s 12 percent of what was grown last year.

Cattle Ranchers are facing very serious concerns as the drought has created a severe shortage of grazing land, and many ranchers will need to reduce their herds.

Dairy farming is California’s largest agricultural business, producing 20 percent of our nation’s milk. Because of the severity of the drought, dairy farmers have struggled as feed costs have skyrocketed.

Nut orchards are expected to see drops in production by as much as 25 percent this year. Almonds are the third largest farm product in the state, and many growers are concerned that they will not just lose product, but they will lose entire trees.

Over 95 percent of climate scientists have warned about climate instability (particularly in the U.S.), with more floods and droughts, and increasing temperatures – which drive the extreme weather changes.

Recently, Congress passed a farm bill, with very little to show for mitigating the impact of climate change. It’s pretty remarkable actually. Meanwhile, our food delivery system really is in pretty serious peril, and climate stability and helping farmers become more resilient to extreme weather conditions, was not even mentioned, either in the debate or in the final bill.

We typically only discuss agriculture as adding to the problem of climate change, with the production of greenhouse gases. What’s rarely mentioned is how effective farming can be as part of the climate change solution, especially when the focus is on soil maintenance and strategies for sequestering carbon. Farming can actually play a very significant role in mitigating climate change. Perhaps if farmers were rewarded for the ecology of their practices, as well as for the food they grow, we might see a significant difference – not only impacting climate change, but impacting the overall health of our food. We would probably see a lot more organic farming.

However, If we don’t wake up and do something very soon, it’s quite possible we will be in over our heads with nature, and she is a very formidable force… and one that we have a very poor record of opposing, by the way.