UC Berkeley agricultural specialists and others collaborated on an Agricultural and Resource Economics, or ARE, Update special issue, highlighting California farms and ranches will likely generate normal revenue in 2021 despite the ongoing drought.
The ARE Update special issue was created to help stakeholders explain how California can adapt to the drought, according to Ellen Bruno, campus assistant cooperative extension specialist. She added that understanding how to adapt could help reduce the costs of future periods of scarcity to farmers and consumers.
John Abatzoglou, UC Merced professor of climatology, compared this drought to ones of the past, linking climate change with the ongoing drought.
“By late summer of 2021, half of California found itself in an exceptional drought,” Abatzoglou wrote in the issue. “Increasing atmospheric thirst, together with climate change, has arguably supercharged recent droughts, including California’s ongoing drought.”
Bruno noted in an email people tend to believe droughts will lead to an increase in the price of food. However, she explained price changes and effects on consumers are usually small, as the prices for crops that fail to produce are primarily are determined by “market forces outside of California.” Additionally, she noted that many of the reduced crops are used for feeding livestock rather than humans.
Daniel Sumner, UC Davis professor, and his co-authors of the special issue found farmers have adapted to drought-imposed scarcities and prevented significant financial losses by adjusting crop acreage, leaving some land unplanted and reallocating water to high-payoff crops, among other measures.
“Farmers adjust land use – shifting away from field crops like rice, alfalfa hay, and corn silage,” Bruno said in an email. “Sumner et al. explain that prices for these commodities tend to rise in response to a reduction in output, which offsets the losses to farmers.”
Although farmers have been quick to adapt, Bruno said in the email increasing water storage by recharging groundwater aquifers could improve California’s ability to respond to droughts.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded the drought emergency to all parts of California on Oct. 19, stating in a press release Californians need to “redouble” efforts to save water.
“It’s great for our collective awareness about this scarce resource,” Bruno said in the email, referring to this expansion. “Hopefully it encourages all of us to be less wasteful in our water use. While the Governor’s drought emergency is more focused on household conservation, and the Special Issue focuses on agricultural water use, it is important that both user types use water efficiently.”