Randy Ishida exits his tractor after spraying citrus trees last year on his farm in Lindsay (Tulare County). Below, a sun-scorched orange hangs in a dried-up orchard that was abandoned near Lindsay. Photo: Leah Millis, The San Francisco Chronicle
Farmers in California lost more than $9 billion in revenue last year as the ongoing drought forced them to fallow fields, shut down farms and cut labor costs.
The figures, reported Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Marissa Lang of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, come amid warnings that a fifth year of drought could continue to drive down agriculture earnings and ultimately hurt the state’s economy. Agriculture officials predict a continued downward trend in farm revenue this year.
In the first four years of California’s historic drought, which pushed the federal and state governments to halt or slash deliveries of water to several water districts throughout the Central Valley, farmers were able to shore up their revenue using several controversial strategies.
Pumping groundwater to make up for the loss of state- and federally allocated water has caused the valley floor to sink. Turning to high-yield crops like almonds, which bring in more dollars per gallon of water than many other crops, helped farmers maintain a revenue stream even as they stopped tilling fields and fired workers.
But that strategy can go only so far.