Drought; as bad as you think - The Packer

Drought; as bad as you think

05/19/2014 05:05:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstThe actual California drought is not getting any better. But the dollar losses predicted earlier may have overstated drought’s effect.

News reports today indicates that economic losses from the drought could be less than previously forecast.

Losses will reach $3.4 billion for farming and related economic activity, including trucking and shipping, according to the Bloomberg coverage of statements from the California Farm Water Coalition, Sacramento. That loss estimate is less than half of the $.748 billion loss expected in March. The coverage said less land will be left fallow than expected (410,000 now versus 800,000 predicted in March), and growers are pumping more water from aquifers.

So groundwater is blunting the drought somewhat, but the situation remains perilous.

News accounts of the updated U.S. drought monitor explain that 100% of California is now in one of the three worst stages of drought.

Industry veteran Rick Eastes paints a scene for us in a couple of e-mails to me in recent weeks. From Rick:

The drought issue is real here in California. It is going to affect industry production of cannery tomatoes, garlic, and onions the heaviest. Driving on 198 west from Visalia to the I-5 it is shocking how much land is ‘out of production’ because of no water. The estimate of 500,000 acres or more being out is visible driving on I-5.

I suspect that cantaloupes and watermelons will be the most affected produce items in the San Joaquin Valley—there is a story coming up there. Permanent crops like tree fruit and table grapes will not really be affected in 2014. If the drought goes another year, it could become a catastrophe. However, we will have to wait and see if that gets resolved.

Depending on where measured, the Sierra snow pack is perhaps 15-20% of normal, and no rain is likely before October in the State of California. Estimates of 500,000 to 1 million acres of row crops unplanted this summer in the San Joaquin Valley are ominous for not only for the traditional major crops of cotton, cannery tomatoes, and pulses, but also fresh items like cantaloupes and other seasonal melons.

(One large ranch on the Westside), confirmed not planting 2000 acres of row crops to have sufficient water to maintain critical almond orchards. That is happening to many Westside growers who have permanent crops like almonds, pistachios, and wine grapes. Wells are not a solution for the Westside where water is very deep (over 1000 ft.) and in many cases briny or heavily mineralized with negative elements like boron—and scarce, even if you drill and come up with a ‘positive well’.

There are some citrus groves south of Porterville which for the first time in commercial history will get zero water, and this is after serious freeze damage in December. Not pretty.

Again the effects on employment and ag support industries will become ‘more in the news’ as we move into summer.

 

But Eastes observes there is always hope, writing:

  I remember the drought in Australia a few years ago. Just when the ‘end’ was in sight for NSW, they had record floods over a 6 month period and everyone ‘forgot’ about the drought.

 

We can hope. And Eastes points out the El Nino effect is predicted by some to result in a “wet phase” for Western states in 2014-15,

 And now we watch and wait. Check out this link to the California drought page and here is California Department of Food and Ag drought page.

The U.S. drought portal is found here  and the USDA ERS drought page is here.

From that report, I saw an interesting nugget about the role of crop insurance in measuring the drought effect. That needs more exploration; how will federal crop insurance mitigate losses from the California drought? Because the glass is not half full this year for anyone.



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