Harsher drought impacts forecast for California agriculture

Ground view showing drought conditions in agriculture field.

Drought conditions in crop field near Woodland, Calif. Source: California Department of Water Resources

By Richard Howitt, Duncan MacEwan, Josué Medellín-Azuara, Jay Lund and Daniel A. Sumner

The drought is expected to be worse for California’s agricultural economy this year because of reduced water availability, according to our preliminary estimates released today.

The study, summarized below, estimates farmers will have 2.7 million acre-feet less surface water than they would in a normal water year — about a 33 percent loss of water supply, on average. The impacts are concentrated mostly in the San Joaquin Valley and are not evenly distributed; individual farmers will face losses of zero to 100 percent.

Expanded groundwater pumping will offset more than 70 percent of this surface water deficit, according to our modeling of how farmers are likely to respond. This leaves a shortage of 2.5 million acre-feet — 9 to 10 percent of the amount normally applied to crops — compared with a net water shortage of 1.5 million acre-feet in 2014.

The estimates, prepared for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, also show that farmers will fallow roughly 560,000 acres or 6 to 7 percent of California’s average annual irrigated cropland.

Estimated Drought Impacts to California Agriculture, 2015

caption

Source:Howitt RE, Medellín-Azuara J, MacEwan D, Lund JR and Sumner DA. 2015. “Preliminary Analysis: 2015 Drought Economic Impact Study,” UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

Economically, the drought seems on track to reduce crop, dairy and livestock revenues by $1.2 billion this year. Pumping costs are expected to reach nearly $600 million. Overall, the drought is estimated to cause direct costs of $1.8 billion — about 4 percent of California’s $45 billion agricultural economy. When we account for the spillover effect of agriculture on the state’s other economic sectors, the total cost of this year’s drought on California’s economy is $2.7 billion and the loss of about 18,600 full- and part-time jobs.

California Agricultural Jobs and the Drought, 2013 -2014Pages from 2015Drought_PrelimAnalysis copy

Agricultural employment increased from 2013 to 2014, but substantial losses of irrigation-season jobs occurred in areas particularly hard-hit by the drought.

The drought induced job losses even while total agricultural employment continued to grow. We estimate further job losses will occur in 2015.

As with last year, groundwater, global markets and water markets are greatly reducing the economic impacts of the drought on California’s agriculture and consumers worldwide. Still, considerable local suffering will remain in harder-hit areas.

We will update our estimates in the coming months as additional data become available.

Richard HowittJosué Medellín-Azuara and Jay Lund are with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences; Duncan MacEwan is with ERA Economics in Davis, Calif.; and Daniel Sumner is director of the University of California Agricultural Issues Center. 

Further reading

Howitt RE, Medellín-Azuara J, MacEwan D, Lund JR and Sumner DA. 2015. “Preliminary Analysis: 2015 Drought Economic Impact Study,” UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. 9p

Howitt RE, Medellín-Azuara J, MacEwan D, Lund JR and Sumner DA. 2014. Economic Analysis of the 2014 Drought for California Agriculture.” UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. 20p

Lund, JR, Medellín-Azuara J, Harter T. Why California’s agriculture needs groundwater groundwater management.” California WaterBlog.May26,2014

Lund, JR et al. “Taking agricultural conservation seriously.” California WaterBlog. March 15, 2011

Medellín-Azuara J and Lund JR. “Dollars and drops per California crop.” California WaterBlog. April 14, 2015

Sumner DA. “Food prices and the California drought.” California WaterBlog. April 22, 2015

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19 Responses to Harsher drought impacts forecast for California agriculture

  1. Imagine what the permanent losses and damages, the real costs, and the tragedies are to our shared ground water commons all over California and the West during this drought, particularly in a unique and very small region like the Monterey Bay/Salinas and Pajaro Valleys, accounting for around $5 billion in yearly primarily transnational Big Ag tenant berry, produce, and de facto virtually free ground water exports w/o any reductions at all during this historic drought and grown only with over 85% of virtually free decades long deficit spent/mined exclusively local and shared ground waters … to their final exhaustion and ruination?

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  2. tsac0008 says:

    Hopefully, the ill advised expansion of California agriculture, well beyond any sustainable level, that expanded permanent crops into desert wastelands at the expense of thousands of people’s natural drinking water supply, will be retracted so that ultimately what is left of our natural environment and water supply is not totally destroyed. Now that the corporate agricultural interest of the southern San Joaquin have depleted groundwater to such an outrageous level, will that increase the odds of activity along the San Andreas fault? It is projected that the groundwater recharge capacity, as a result of overdafting by agriculture and the subsidence caused is permanently lost to a major degree. It would seem that the citizens should be able to bring class actions against the perpetrators of these environmental crimes.

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  3. Frances Griffin says:

    When articles like this say “farmers” translate that into “growers” or, in many cases, giant plantation owners. Small farmers don’t get the kind of subsidies the big guys get.
    We have been awful stewards of the water and of the land and now it is time to deal with reality.

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  4. Pingback: UC Davis team puts 2015 California drought impacts at 4 percent of the state’s ag economy | jfleck at inkstain

  5. Larry Farwell says:

    Your comment about job losses in agriculture is very odd when total agricultural employment continues to grow. With that perspective EVERY industry has job losses every year as some companies close, move or restructure. Employment is fluid and labor often has to relocate to find work. Also, drought has always been a cause for fallowing land yet the tone of this article is that the impact on farmers is unusual. What is unusual is the reliance on permanent crops in an area with a variable water supply and the overdraft of groundwater during normal precipitation years. The tragedy of the commons is based on greed and self-interest. Time to better manage our resources.

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  6. plgepts says:

    Reblogged this on Crop Evolution, Domestication and Bean/Biodiversity/Breeding and commented:
    what could be the contribution of new varieties that need less irrigation water? Example: For summer crops, from 3 to 2 irrigations in common bean? In lima beans? For a winter crop, like garbanzo (chickpea), no spring irrigation? what is the effect on seed weight, a key element of consumer quality?

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  14. James says:

    Water availability is a co-factor to be put in consideration. Alternative ways must be sort to cab water shortage for better productivity.

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  15. Pingback: Blog round-up: Why farming needs the new groundwater law, The nature and extent of agriculture should be an intentional choice, What the EPA’s Fracking and Drinking Water Study really says, and more …MAVEN'S NOTEBOOK | MAVEN'S NOTEBO

  16. Bevo says:

    Does anyone in the Bay area and coastal areas have any idea of where their water comes from??? Is anyone there conserving water, letting their lawns die, having dirty cars,etc! How much water does it take to produce a computer or phone or any other product that comes from the Bay area from Northern to Southern California, excluding agriculture? Does anyone know that the ENVIRONMENTAL groups have lobbied for years to use more water than every other group? We had people that were great thinkers and they knew that we needed to save water for these periods of drought but that was sold out to the big $ environmentalists like the Sierra Club and many more to bring this state back to the desert it once was and get rid of us people in the central valley.

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