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Job Losses Mount From Parched California Farms

By Denise Valenzuela

Posted in

Unfortunately California remains gripped by drought.  This effects all of us – currently some more than others but the scale of lost agricultural jobs and lowered revenue is emerging in this sector. The numbers don’t look good.

Vast tracts of farmland — mostly in the Central Valley — have been fallowed, which means idled to accumulate moisture. An estimated 564,000 acres will be idled this year, according to an economic update on the drought from researchers at the University of California at Davis.

This unused land triggers lower agricultural output. Based on estimates of 564,000 idled acres, farm revenue losses are forecast at $1.8 billion. In addition, the forecast anticipates 8,550 fewer farm jobs because of the drought.

The ripple effect of lower agricultural activity is expected to be even bigger. Idled land means fewer food processing jobs and thinned ranks of truckers to haul goods. Spillover, statewide revenue losses are likely to reach $2.7 billion, with 18,600 lost full-time and part-time jobs, according to a state report.

Some California farmers in near ‘survival mode’

During the winter, unusually warm temperatures left record low snowpacks that eventually melt and trickle down to fill large reservoirs. With less water, every pocket of agriculture is being hit, from dairy to rice farmers.

  • Rice farmers are planting about 30 percent less rice this year, according to the California Rice Commission.
  • The dairy and cattle industries are forecast to lose $350 million in revenue, according to UC Davis research.

The dairy industry is getting hit from all sides. The economy of China, a big U.S. dairy consumer, has slowed. Meanwhile, dairy farmers are paying for higher feed prices as hay farmers have lowered production due to water shortages.  All of these issues combine with a synergistic effect that can be very troublesome for our agricultural industry.

We’re in survival mode which probably means laying off employees, including irrigation supervisors, field crews and — most painful of all — some workers who feel a little like family.

a sign near state highway 99 that calls for water and drought management

A sign near Highway 99 calls for water and drought-management action.
David McNew/Getty Images

How many jobs will be lost won’t be known until summer, when the full impact of the drought can be calculated. But everyone is expecting the worst. We are in uncharted territory, but if previous droughts are any indication, about 15,000 jobs on farms and in farm-related industries could be lost.

The 2009 drought, one that was less extreme than this year’s, caused the loss of 6,000 jobs and $350 million in lost crops, according to the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

 

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