Photo by David Kovalenko via Unsplash

California’s multibillion-dollar agricultural industry provides the United States with two-thirds of its fruits and nuts and over a third of its vegetables. It also provides thousands of jobs

Record-high heatwave temperatures are threatening the industry and the livelihood of those who work in it. Additionally, the United States’ food security will be impacted by damage to California’s agricultural sector. 

“The climate change impacts we are suffering in this drought – early and prolonged heat waves that created faster snow melt and extremely dry soil conditions that prevented the anticipated runoff into our streams and reservoirs – are part of how we must be prepared for continual drought management going forward,” said Steve Lyle, director of public affairs at the California Department of Food and Agriculture in an email to Scriberr News.

Lyle said that while it is too early to quantify the impacts of the current drought, it is unlikely to have any immediate impact on food security and availability of California products.

The western region is facing one of the most extreme heat waves they’ve ever observed. This is in addition to the historically severe drought conditions California has been experiencing for years. Death Valley, famous for holding the world record for heat, hit 125 degrees this month. This is the highest temperature reached this year in the United States.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought state of emergency on April 21 which has expanded to cover about a third of the state’s population.

The period between June 2020 and May 2021 has been the driest ever recorded in California, leading to widespread water shortages and major impacts on crops and pasture. This combination of drought and heatwave conditions has forced farmers and policymakers to carefully select which crops to grow, what fields to fallow, and how much to spend to protect the state’s $50 billion agricultural industry this year. 

The State Water Project is also showing worryingly low levels. The project is a man-made water storage and delivery system under California’s Department of Water Resources that helps to irrigate thousands of acres of crops. Water levels have been so low that some residents, including farmers, have been denied the use of water from the Russian River. Persons who exercise their right to use that water could face a $1000 fine per day.

Sarge Green, a water management specialist with the California Water Institute at California State University, told the Washington Post that it is predicted that California agriculture will take a 20 to 30 percent financial hit this year.

“It’s going to be a big hurt,” Green said to the Washington Post. “And it’s the small towns that get the hardest hit in times like this.”

Some small farmers in west California, with 20 or fewer cultivated acres, have already had to put up their farms for sale.

“Big agriculture will find a way to survive, they have the resources and flexibility,” said Green. 

Commercial farmers do have the money and resources to drill into groundwater reserves to irrigate their crops, but smaller farmers will face loss of crops and revenue at best if they are unable to irrigate.

According to a study by UC Davis, California’s 2016 drought resulted in the loss of $247 million in crop revenue and 1,815 farm seasonal job losses.

In response to the worsening drought conditions, Gov. Newsom has set aside $5.1 billion to manage some of the immediate consequences of the weather conditions and begun imposing water-saving regulations in northern California counties and cities. 

The Department of Water Resources also began construction on a temporary emergency drought barrier this month. The barrier will help prevent the contamination of water supplies for agricultural use and conserve critical water supplies in upstream reservoirs for later use. 

“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in northern and central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” said Gov. Newsom. . 

The effects of the heatwave have also added literal fuel to the fires that have been plaguing California’s dry vegetation and increasingly dangerous wildfire season.

If human activity continues as it has been, drought severity is likely to triple, while wildfire “season” becomes a year-round event.

Despite the heat, Californians have been trying to keep upbeat. 

Scriberr News also reached out to the California Department of Water Resources, California Farmers’ Market Association and California Farmers Union.

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