Study: California drought causes economic losses

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A small amount of water flows into a ditch near an empty field on the outskirts of Huron, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022. Many fields around the southern San Joaquin Valley have been left steaming as the drought continues, drying up jobs for families in the process.

ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

As California prepares for the fourth consecutive year of drought and farmland in the Golden State increasingly fallow, growers continue to face mounting economic challenges.

U new report on the financial toll of extreme drought conditions in the state, researchers estimated that the state’s irrigated farmland would decline by 752,000 acres, or nearly 10%, from 2019 to 2022.

Fields meant to harvest rice, almonds and other crops are instead lying fallow, sending vacant land levels across California past the previous peak seen during the state’s last drought, which lasted from 2012 to 2016.

The researchers found that as a result, California’s crop revenues fell by $1.7 billion, or 4.6%, during that time, and more than 19,000 jobs were lost in the state’s agriculture and food industry — a major loss , which are getting worse every year due to drought.

“California is no stranger to drought, but the current drought has hit some normally water-rich parts of the state that are critical to the state’s broad water supply,” UC Merced professor John Abatsoglu, co-author of the report’s book, said in a statement.

The past three water years, which run from October to September, have been the driest in California history. Water supplies to the Central Valley have been cut by nearly 43% in 2021 and 2022 due to low reservoir storage. Last year, the Sacramento Valley saw a record low water supply.

To help the state Department of Food and Agriculture understand the impacts, researchers from UC Merced, UC Davis and the Public Policy Institute of California studied shifts in irrigated land by surveying irrigated areas, analyzing satellite data and using agricultural and economic modeling.

The researchers found that the most common mitigation measures used by growers were land evaporation or increased groundwater pumping. While these strategies helped limit further losses, UC Merced engineering professor Jasue Medellín-Azuara, who led the report, said it may not be enough in the future.

“If dry conditions persist through 2022, a higher level of adaptation measures can be taken to reduce the economic impact on agriculture and communities that are home to thousands of households that make a living from agriculture,” Medellin-Azuara said in a statement. .

Earlier this month, the California Rice Commission estimated that the state’s rice harvest would be about half the normal season. The commission warned that this was bad news not only for farmers, but also for wildlife that rely on the fields for food and shelter.

Tim Johnson, the commission’s president and CEO, said parched farmland threatens the millions of birds that depend on the wetlands, as well as the entire Pacific Flyway ecosystem.

Johnson’s statement said his organization is working with state and federal agencies to “assist in tracking the impacts of this historic drought on waterfowl, with the goal of using this science to better assist the Pacific Flyway in the years ahead.”

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Maggie Angst covers California politics and Governor Gavin Newsom for The Sacramento Bee. Before joining The Bee’s Capitol Bureau, she worked at the Mercury News and the East Bay Times, where she covered San Jose City Hall and later wrote corporate stories in the breaking news team.

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