Business & Economy

California agriculture industry growing despite drought losses

Giant wooden murals of farmworkers are seen at 'The Farm' February 9, 2005 in Salinas, California. The state’s agriculture industry isn’t exactly suffering. In fact, it is growing, even after four years of drought.
Giant wooden murals of farmworkers are seen at 'The Farm' February 9, 2005 in Salinas, California. The state’s agriculture industry isn’t exactly suffering. In fact, it is growing, even after four years of drought.
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California farmers are expected to lose $1.84 billion this year and create 10,100 fewer seasonal jobs due to the drought, according to new study released Tuesday by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Science.

But the state’s agriculture industry isn’t exactly suffering. In fact, it's growing — even after four years of drought.

"We’re getting by remarkably well this year — much better than many had predicted,” lead author Richard Howitt, a UC Davis professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics, said in a statement.

How is that possible?

Farmers have been drilling for more groundwater, which will offset about 70 percent of the surface water shortage this year, according to the study. There's also been a shift towards higher-value crops like nuts and fruits, which are commanding high prices because of increasing global demand.

So the industry is growing, though it would be growing faster without the drought.

"[Farms] made a lot less money than they would have without the drought," said Jay Lund, Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences

If models showing a wet winter because of El Niño turn out to be correct, it could be a boon for California farmers, but could also cause massive crop losses, says Howitt. Looking at past El Niños, the effects on California agriculture have been decidedly mixed.

“It may solve the problem, or it may not,” said Howitt.

The UC Davis study says some areas of the state will be hard hit because of the drought, like the parched southern San Joaquin Valley, but overall, the state’s farm employment is going up; the number of workers in the state's agriculture industry has risen to its highest level in nearly a quarter-century, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of state and federal labor numbers in May.

Here are some other key findings from the UC Davis study: