Cost to California Ag for 2021 Drought: $1.1 Billion, 8,750 Jobs, 395,000 Idled Acres - GV Wire - Explore. Explain. Expose
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Cost to California Ag for 2021 Drought: $1.1 Billion, 8,750 Jobs, 395,000 Idled Acres

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An almond orchard in Newman is abandoned because of water scarcity in California. (AP File)
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A study by UC Merced researchers reveals the staggering costs of last year’s drought on California agriculture.

In a recent report, researchers estimated that 2021’s scarcity of rain and snow directly cost the state’s farm economy about $1.1 billion and nearly 8,750 full- and part-time jobs.

When the drought’s impact on businesses connected to farming was included, the estimated costs rose to $1.7 billion and 14,634 lost jobs.

In addition, the report identified a minimum of 395,000 acres of land idled — roughly 385,000 acres of which were in the Central Valley — because of drought-related water cutbacks.

The report noted that strong commodity prices mitigated some economic costs of the drought. Milk prices, for example, rose because of global demand, and dairies explored alternatives to hay and winter grains that, in some cases, increased cow milk productivity.

Adaption Measures Needed

“This has been a fast-paced drought and it shows how climate change increases the challenges we face in managing water in California,” said researcher and co-author Alvar Escriva-Bou, an engineering and policy expert at the Public Policy Institute of California. “Sadly, we are going to see more and more droughts like this, so we need better tools to anticipate and minimize the socio-economic impacts.”

Said the lead author of the report, School of Engineering Professor Josué Medellín-Azuara: “Should dry conditions persist throughout 2022, a higher tier of adaptation measures may come into play to reduce economic impacts on agriculture and communities that host thousands of households relying on agriculture for a living.”

SGMA Will Fallow at Least 500,000 Acres

The drought dovetails with the effort to implement the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The PPIC estimates that complying with the law will require at least 500,000 acres of irrigated farmland (10%) to come out of production by 2040.

In a Feb. 22 PPIC blog post written by Ellen Hanak, Caitlin Peterson, and Abby Hart, they discuss the best uses for the fallowed land.

On their list: Solar development, and restoration of wetlands, riparian habitat, and arid grasslands

“Upland restoration—potentially suitable on as much as 100,000 acres—could benefit vulnerable San Joaquin desert species including the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, the giant kangaroo rat, and the San Joaquin kit fox,” they write.

Read the UC Merced drought report at this link.

Read the PPIC blog post at this link.

 

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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