This post is the third installment of a three-part series highlighting the 2014 California Drought. Check out Part Two of the Series: The Effects of California's Driest Year.
The California drought rages on, leaving lands dry and barren. Farm/ranch owners and laborers throughout the west are directly impacted by the drought. The owners have to slaughter or sell off livestock for lack of feed and refrain from planting their usual crops, which means cutting their own income and providing less work for laborers and truckers.
Shortages naturally drive prices up at the market, and you’ve probably already seen higher costs on meats, poultry, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and dairy products as farmers produce less. (It takes from two to twelve months for the full effects of a drought to become obvious at the marketplace.) California’s produce industry is normally a $44.7 billion annual business, but as the drought continues, that number will shrink dramatically.
Drought in California's Central Valley
On May 19th, 2014, the results of a study conducted by the University of California’s Davis’ Center for Watershed Sciences reported that the California drought could cause as many as 14,500 full-time and seasonal jobs to be lost. In addition to job loss, the drought will cost California’s Central Valley (one of the most affluent farming communities in the world) to lose $1.7 billion dollars.
Since many farmers in the Central Valley rely on irrigation, rather than rain to grow their crops, they are purchasing supplies from federal and state projects to pump water from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta or are pumping water from wells—but these are costly ventures.
California’s farm industry makes up $1.9 trillion of the state’s gross domestic product for the year, and as such, the governor is helping the farmers by easing some of the state’s water rights regulations. But as we know, the decrease in farming and produce production from the California farm industry does not just impact California alone.
CBS News suggests that “the direction of national food prices [are less than certain] as the drought grinds on. California agriculture produces close to half of all the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in America…”
Prices Climb as the Drought Rages on
As prices increase, some shoppers will look for alternative sources or choices, while others will simply do without their usual fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Customers may simply refuse to buy overpriced produce, allowing it to get old on the shelves rather than pay what is asked.
California exports a tremendous volume of produce and meat overseas—and it remains to be seen how foreign customers will react to price increases. Will vendors and restaurant owners still order from California, or turn to other temperate climate sources such as Spain, Italy, and Israel? And once their status in the industry is lost, will California be able to regain it when the rain returns? Since western droughts can last for decades, a lot of things seem up in the air.
According to Scientific American, California received little to no rain during the region’s wet season from December to March. And by the beginning of April, nearly 70 percent of the state was in extreme to exceptional drought. As of May, the entire state is now experiencing “severe” drought.
In the meantime, it might be a very good idea to purchase some long-lasting, freeze-dried fruits, veggies, and meats before those items become scarce and prices skyrocket. Now is also the time to start conserving water wherever you can—every little bit will help. Try the “Gallon Challenge—EEStyle” to see if you and your family can each survive on a gallon of water for one day!
-Sharon, Kim, and Angela