If a drought in California stretched on for 72 years, it wouldn't be a complete disaster, reported Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times. According to computer modeling research by a group of UC and CSU scientists, the California economy would not collapse and agriculture would shrink, but not disappear.
"The results were surprising," said Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. "California has a remarkable ability to weather extreme and prolonged droughts from an economic perspective."
Dan Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, said the state's 8 million acres of irrigated cropland could be cut in half. Farmers would grow less "low-value crops" like cotton and alfalfa and use reduced water supplies for growing fruits, nuts and vegetables.
Land that had been farmed would revert to scrub or be dry-farmed with wheat or other crops that were common before the federal government built a system to channel water to the valley.
"In a sense, we move back to the future," Sumner said.
Some farm communities would turn into ghost towns, the article said. "For a while, poor people would get a lot poorer throughout the Central Valley," Sumner said. "Then they'd move."
"It's a really big deal," Sumner said. "Some crops simply grow better here than anyplace else, and our location gives us access to markets you don't have elsewhere."
California is the United States' top dairy producer and grows half of the country's fruit. In 2012, almonds became the state's second-most valuable ag crop. The Washington Post reported that in the U.S., almond consumption has grown by more than 220 percent since 2005. In the late 2010s, almonds surpassed the long-running nut leader peanuts (not including peanut butter) in per capita consumption.
The Bloomberg article opened with the story the Fred Starrh's family farm in Kern County. The Starrh family was a prominent cotton grower for more than 70 years. The shifting global market and rising water prices prompted the family to replace more of their cotton plants with almonds.
"I can't pay $1,000 an acre-foot (of water) to grow cotton," said Starrh, 85.
California grows four-fifths of the world's almonds, the Bloomberg story said, using enough water to meet the needs of 75 percent of the state's population. An advocate for bigger water supplies for cities suggests in the story that farmers should be profitable, but it shouldn't come at the expense of urban water ratepayers.
Timm Herdt, a Ventura County Star columnist, wrote that farmers' close attention to the weather has given them keen awareness about climate change.
"Anybody who's paying attention knows the climate has already changed," said Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis.
In his story about last week's conference on climate change in Sacramento, Herdt wrote if there is any group that doesn't have to be sold on the idea that government must address the effects of climate change, it's farmers. However, he called climate change a tough political issue.
"Conservatives unwilling to acknowledge the overwhelming science on global warming will continue to fight efforts to slow climate change by reducing carbon emissions. Liberals will likely resist steps that might be needed to adapt to irreversible changes that have already taken place - steps such as increased reliance on genetic engineering to help agriculture adapt and a greater emphasis on water storage," Herdt wrote.
Other recent drought coverage includes:
Alfalfa is more resilient than many crops because it can go into a drought-induced dormancy during the summer, at least for one year, according to UC Cooperative Extension advisors Rachael Long and Steve Orloff. The tradeoff is that without water there will be little yield, but research has shown the stand will persist on most soil types and yield will recover the next year, once water is applied to the field again.
California drought will hit cost of rice hardest
Debbie Arrington, The Sacramento Bee
Price increases won't be huge, but one crop will see a noticeable price spike: California rice.
“It's the exception,” said Dan Sumner, noting the international demand for the state's short-grained “sushi rice.” “It's a unique product and a major export crop. You can't have a 20 or 25 percent reduction and not see an increase in price.”
MID, TID farmers can get water-wise tips
The Modesto Bee
UC Cooperative Extension takes part in a drought workshop for farmers in the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts 6 to 8 p.m. May 29 at the Harvest Hall, Stanislaus County Ag Center, 2800 Cornucopia Way. UCCE advisor Roger Duncan will present water-saving practices.
"The climate is an angry beast and we're poking it with a sharp stick" said Benjamin Santer, a research scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The conference, hosted by UC's Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, covered water use, adaptation to a changed climate and tangible predicted impacts on California's agricultural production, the story said.
Another speaker at the event, Dan Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, said California agriculture and policy should look beyond the state's borders. As temperatures rise and weather patterns change, crops may be better adapted to other states and countries and, potentially, California less so. Already a migration toward greener pastures for range cattle has begun.
Gov. Jerry Brown was a featured speaker at the conference. He discussed a report released Monday by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences that predicts a $1.7 billion loss to California agriculture because of the 2014 drought. He said California is at the "epicenter" of climate change and called for the state's residents and people and governments of other states to work with him to halt the planet's rising temperatures.
Richard Howitt, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis and lead author of the study, predicted climate change will lead to an inevitable decline in agriculture.
"We will have more land (to farm) than water to irrigate," he said.
In a Sacramento Bee story about the conference, written by Edward Ortiz, Maximillian Auffhammer, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Policy at UC Berkeley, called the effects of climate change "slow moving," a pace that gives the ag industry time to deal with climatic uncertainties.
In California, Climate Issues Moved to Fore by Governor
Jennifer Medina, New York Times
Gov. Brown: California at 'Epicenter' of Climate Change
CBS News Los Angeles
Governor Jerry Brown calls for action on climate change, irks protesters over fracking
Jessica Calefati and Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News
The article said west side farming giant Harris Ranch plans to fallow thousands of acres of cropland and use it's scarce water supplies to irrigate permanent crops: almonds, pistachios and asparagus. The ranch says it will hire at least 1,000 fewer field workers than usual this year.
“The trees are there. They can't be moved, they can't be put away,” said David Goldhamer, UC Cooperative Extension specialist emeritus in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis.“They can't be put on hold for a year.”
Most growers will be able to squeeze out a crop, although some will have to settle for sprinkling just enough water on the trees to keep them alive. Goldhamer said yields will fall by as much as 25 percent, mainly because the almonds themselves won't grow to full size.
“You'll have a crop, (but) the nuts will be small,” Goldhamer said.
The Bee article also outlined the drought's projected impact on the state ag economy. The water coalition said farm production could fall by more than $3.5 billion, nearly a tenth of the usual $44 billion in annual production. Factoring in related businesses, the state's economy could lose $7.5 billion, the coalition said.
Richard Howitt, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, said at least 20,000 farmworkers will lose their jobs, putting enormous strain on areas of California where unemployment is typically in double-digit percentages even during good times.
A post in the Rural California Report blog of the California Institute for Rural Studies painted a more detailed portrait of the California ag economy during the drought.
Philip Martin, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economic at UC Davis, says that with a $1 million reduction in farm revenue, 20 to 50 jobs are lost. However, with less water, farmers shift their water use from low value crops like cotton to high value crops like melons. These high value crops located, for the most part, east of Highway 99 in the San Joaquin Valley, are also more labor intensive. This shift in water use could limit the effects of water losses on farm employment numbers. Martin estimates that there will be a reduction of irrigated acres in the San Joaquin Valley from 5 million to between 3.5 and 4 million acres.
Dan Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, summed up the impact of the current drought as follows:
“This is a real idling of land, and there is nothing positive about it. It's not fallowing — that implies a choice. This is not like North Dakota, where we know it's going to get better. We're talking either spending huge sums on bringing water in or thousands of acres lost.”/span>