Damage totals mount from lack of farm water

Issue Date: July 8, 2009
Ron Miller

Preliminary figures on damage and losses from drought and water shortages run as high as $1.4 billion, in just five San Joaquin Valley counties.

Agricultural commissioners in the five counties report that most of the losses relate to acres not planted or to anticipated yield reductions because of water shortages. About $12 million in losses relate to drought damage to rangeland. The agricultural commissioners agree these loss totals could increase as farmers report final production figures.

County agricultural commissioners' damage reports

Fresno (PDF, 82 KB)
Kern (PDF, 171 KB)
Kings (PDF, 63 KB)
Madera (PDF, 317 KB)
Tulare (PDF, 71 KB)

In the nation's leading county in farm and ranch production value, Fresno, the agricultural commissioner's office estimates 262,000 acres have been idled because of the lack of irrigation water. Using last year's crop report, which estimated production value per acre at an average $2,787, the possible loss totals more than $730 million.

Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Thomas Nyberg cautioned that "averages are lousy indicators in the real world, but do tend to give ballpark figures of problems."

Kern County Agricultural Commissioner Ruben Arroyo estimates losses because of extreme reduction in deliveries from water projects total more than $566.7 million in his county. That estimate includes losses to rangeland at 50 percent, more than $1.8 million.

The Kings County agricultural commissioner's office estimates more than $58 million in damage and idled acreage.

In Madera County, inspectors are gathering evidence of the impacts from at least 10,000 acres of land being idled and less corn, cotton and tomatoes being planted, resulting in more than $8 million in losses. The county already reports more than 30 percent losses to almonds, some because of a March freeze, but other damage to the almond crop could be caused by insufficient irrigation, salt damage or other drought-related impacts.

Tulare County reports fewer losses because of a relatively more stable water-supply situation. There are potential future impacts, though, as some hay growers may lose one or two alfalfa cuttings because of possibly reduced water allocations. But rangeland in the county is parched, with at least a 35 percent loss to 615,000 acres, totaling more than $3 million.

Across the state, almost all rangeland is reported in poor or very poor condition. Ranchers must provide supplemental feed and water to their animals. Commissioners in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties report difficulty determining rangeland damage, because late rains did help forage some.

Staffs of agricultural commissioners will continue to gather information about drought damage. In the Huron area, for example, farmers must soon begin planting for the fall lettuce crop. It is uncertain how much water may be available. The Fresno County agricultural commissioner's report says 5,000 acres were planted last spring, 2,000 fewer than last year. This fall, additional losses could be reported if farmers are not certain they will have water and therefore plant less lettuce.

Damage to local economies continues to mount. Because of uncertainties regarding water availability for next year, farmers are having difficulty making plans for planting next year's crops.

In a February report, University of California, Davis, economist Richard Howitt projected that this year's water shortages would cause direct and indirect income losses to the Central Valley ranging from $1.6 billion to $2.2 billion. The report projected job losses in a range between 60,000 and 80,000. Howitt said it remains too early to compute final figures, but that the losses appear to be on a pace to match his projections.

Thus far, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared two counties as drought disaster regions: Fresno and Madera. Several other California counties have filed petitions asking for disaster declarations. Action on those requests is still pending.

Under the 2008 Farm Bill, farmers and ranchers in disaster counties are eligible for government assistance. Growers with a 50 percent loss to natural disaster are eligible for SURE, the Supplemental Revenue Assistance program. Ranchers are eligible for the Livestock Forage Disaster Program that provides payment for feed losses due to drought. And, farmers and ranchers are eligible for the Emergency Loan Program. Local Farm Service Agency offices can provide details. Farmers or ranchers who make a claim must be located in a county declared a disaster zone or a county contiguous to a disaster county.

For more information about disaster assistance, visit the Web site for the California FSA office, www.fsa.usda.gov/ca/ca.htm then click on the link reading "Find State Disaster Information."

Five San Joaquin Valley agricultural commissioners have computed preliminary figures on crop and rangeland losses from drought and water shortages:

County Projected or Actual Loss Estimated Idled Acreage
Fresno $730,122,184 262,000
Kern $566,700,000 181,561
Kings $58,475,195 53,383
Madera $8,194,728 10,000
Tulare $3,300,000 ——

(Ron Miller is a reporter for Ag Alert. He may be contacted at rmiller@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.