Monday, July 7, 2014

California drought: America’s golden state runs dry - and its farmers are struggling to survive

Tim Walker in the Independent (UK):...California grows almost 70 per cent of America’s lettuce, which has gone up in price more than any other fruit or vegetable this year. It is no coincidence that in its regular forecast, the US Department of Agriculture estimated last week that fresh fruit and veg prices would rise by 6 per cent this summer.

The three-year drought afflicting America’s South-west has already affected California’s farming communities, but it is now beginning to be felt by consumers in the US and beyond.

The whole state is officially in “severe drought”, and up to a third of it is in “exceptional drought”. In 2013 less rain fell on California than in any year since it achieved statehood in 1850. The region’s rivers and reservoirs are at their lowest ebb ever. Outside the state capitol in Sacramento, the lawns have b
een allowed to grow brown, while the Getty Museum in Los Angeles recently drained its water features and turned off its fountains.

But while the drought may dent some aesthetics in the big cities, it is most deeply felt in the Central Valley, California’s agricultural backbone. The state’s $45bn (£26bn) farming industry produces almost half the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the US, and to do that it uses 80 per cent of California’s water. Almonds alone account for 10 per cent of the state’s water use – not surprising, given that California produces 80 per cent of the world’s almonds.

With water becoming more and more expensive, California farmers have allowed 500,000 acres of land to lie fallow this year. The consequences of the drought are stamped on signs at the roadside up and down the Central Valley. They read: “No Water = No Jobs”, and “No Water = Higher Food Costs”. The California Farm Bureau has estimated that the average American family should expect to spent $500 more on food in 2014, because of the water shortage...

A view from Marine One of a parched field on the way to Firebaugh, California, on Valentine's Day, 2014

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