As the drought in California stretches for the third year in a row, the state’s agricultural industry is suffering billions in associated losses, a new study found.
The report estimates the direct impact on agricultural activity this year at $1.2 billion — up from $810 million in 2021.
However, according to the University of California report, Merced’s Water Systems Management Lab, the effects of the drought in 2022 went well beyond that $1.2 billion sum.
Effects on the food processing industry, which depends on agricultural products, amounted to around $845 million in 2022 — up from $590 million in the previous year.
“Drought is no stranger to California, but this current drought has hit some of the typically water-rich parts of the state that are essential to the entire state water supply very hard,” said co-author John Abatzoglou, professor of climatology at UC Merced, in a statement.
Overall, the direct and indirect consequences of the drought have led to added value losses of around 2 billion US dollars this year alone, according to the researchers.
These losses amount to a decline of 5.9 percent compared to those in 2019 and, according to the study, also led to a reduction of 19,420 jobs.
California agriculture not only suffered from the effects of the drought, but also suffered from supply chain disruptions, including the ability to ship plants outside the state, the authors explained.
According to the study, such delays could lead to an increase in inventories and affect some of the prices for specialty crops in California.
While researchers acknowledged the adverse effects of the drought on agriculture, they found that it could have been worse.
According to lead author Josué Medellín-Azuara, associate professor of environmental engineering at UC Merced, techniques to curb the effects of droughts — such as land idling and increased groundwater pumping and water trafficking — reduced potential economic losses.
In the meantime, some parts of California were much more affected than others.
“The Sacramento Valley and its communities were zero during this drought,” Alvar Escriva-Bou, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, said in a statement.
Statewide fallow land grew by 750,000 acres in 2022 compared to 2019 — more than half of these farms were in the Sacramento region, according to the study.
Given that the region is generally much wetter, Escriva-Bou recommended investing more in basin replenishment and pumping infrastructure to strengthen the region’s drought resistance.
“We need to invest more in strengthening the climate resilience of our rural, agriculture-dependent communities, as they are at the forefront of the impact of climate change on their economic base,” added co-author Joshua Viers, UC Merced Deputy Dean of Research.
“We can only expect prolonged dry periods, interrupted for a short time by periods of heavy humidity — which, in addition to many challenges, will further impact access to clean drinking water and stable employment,” said Viers.