California farmers face tough choices as study says drought to cost agriculture $2.7 bln

California's severe drought will result in a statewide economic loss of $2.7 billion to agriculture and related industries in 2015, according to preliminary findings from UC Davis and ERA Economics, leaving farmers with difficult choices.

The recent study predicts that between 6 percent and 7 percent of irrigated farmland in California will be fallowed, totaling 564,000 acres, resulting in a statewide reduction in gross crop farm revenue of $856 million.

The report also projects a total loss of 18,600 jobs due to the water shortages California will face this year.

This year’s drought is not as severe as initial estimates, but the study said it was worse than 2014 in terms of reduced water availability and economic impact to agriculture.

While the San Joaquin Valley is the hardest hit, the effects are not evenly distributed. Farmers could face minimal or extreme losses in water supply, from no cut to a completely dry farmland.

Crops are also not equally effected.

“[Farmers] are looking at what the best value for that water is,” said Steve Lyle of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “Tomatoes would be fallowed in favor of a more permanent crop like a nut orchard.”

With the water situation growing dire, farmers in California have to make difficult decisions about what to grow and what not to grow, or even if growing at all is still practical.

“It is reasonable to anticipate that many growers will have to retire their lands all together or move to other locations out of state or out of the country,” said Renee Pinel, CEO of the Western Plant Health Association.

The issue reaches well beyond the drought-stricken lands of California, however. California produces over 90 percent of America’s artichokes, walnuts, kiwis, garlic, celery and plums and a majority of many other forms of American produce. The persistence of the drought can influence prices of most of the fresh produce across the United States.

“I think there’s still a bright future for Californian farming,” said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. “It’s difficult to get through the drought at the moment, but we know we will.”