UPDATED: California crop losses could surpass $800 million

07/16/2014 11:57:00 AM
Tom Karst

(UPDATED COVERAGE, July 17) Groundwater supplies pumped from wells will make up most of the shortfall in agricultural water supplies caused by the California drought, but a new study said the drought will still cause $810 million in lost crop revenues this year.

With alarm rising, industry sources said growers in some regions are chasing water and on lengthy waiting lists for new wells.

Published by the University of California at Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, the study — “Economic Analysis of the 2014 Drought for California Agriculture,” — estimated the total statewide economic costs of the drought at $2.2 billion, including the loss of 17,100 seasonal and part time jobs. Crop values of the state’s fruit and nut trees will decline by $277 million because of the drought, while losses to vegetables and non-tree fruit are estimated at $47 million in 2014, according to the report.

The UC Davis study said drought is expected to decrease cropland in California by 428,000 acres in 2014. Of that total, fruit and nut trees account for 41,000 acres of the total reduction, with vegetables and non tree fruit representing 10,000 acres of idled ground. The Tulare Basin lot 24,000 acres of cropland because of the drought, the study said.

Sean Stockton, president of Sundale Vineyards & Cold Storage, Tulare, Calif., said both large growers and small growers have been hurt by the drought.

“Having no district water, we are chasing all the well water trying to make sure we have enough water to take care of our existing crops,” he said July 17. Water levels of existing wells are dropping with heavy use.

Stockton said the company has been on a waiting list to get seven wells dug and many other growers are also seeking new wells, he said.

Some surface water is selling for $1,400 to $1,600 per acre-foot, compared to pre-crisis level of $40 to $60 per acre-foot.

“That’s one day of watering for grapes. You divide that over what you are watering and that is scary,” he said.

The surface water reduction caused by the drought, according to the report, is estimated at 6.6 million acre-feet. The increase in groundwater pumping of water was estimated 5.1 million acre-feet, leaving the net water shortage of 1.6 million acre-feet, according to the study.

Dave Puglia, senior vice president at Western Growers, Irvine, Calif., said that part of the solution to the drought is to capture more water for agriculture that is available.


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Alfred Nunez    
July, 22, 2014 at 10:33 AM

The state should promote better water management methods. It should restrict growers to drip irrigation when at all possible. It may be more expensive for the individual grower, but having water for future crops sure beats not having any.

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