How much is the drought in California affecting food prices? Unfortunately, quite a bit

by Justin Weinger on May 12, 2014

The devastating and ongoing drought in California is causing food prices to rise quite quickly and, in the near future, that’s not likely to change.

Timothy Richards, a professor of agribusiness at Arizona State University, recently said that “I would expect a 28% increase for avocados and 34% increase for letters” after research was released on probable crop price increases caused by the drought.

Other foods including certain types of berries, melons, tomatoes, packaged salads, broccoli, grapes and peppers are also going to rise in the next 2 to 3 months Richards said.

Not surprisingly, Richards added that the most vulnerable crops are the ones that either use a lot of water or are sensitive to large reductions in their available water.  Industry experts estimate that from a half million to 1 million acres of California land is being affected right now by the current drought and, back in January 2014, California’s Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.

California, known as the “Golden State”, grows over 200 different crops and some of them are not grown anywhere else in the United States. Most of the olives, eggs, apricots, walnuts, almonds and nectarines in the US are grown in California and only Florida grows more oranges. California also leads the country in avocado production as well as melons, lemons, peaches, plums and strawberries.

Unfortunately, Richards believes that between 10 and 20% of certain crops could be lost if the drought continues. He also said that, even if the drought were to end today, it would take several months before the price increases that are now being seen would begin to reverse.

As retailers begin to look elsewhere for their produce, including importing more from countries like Chile and Mexico, experts wonder if this is a good solution or simply going to cause more problems.

For example, there are a lot of consumers who only purchase domestic fruits and vegetables and, while importing more might help to keep prices low, it might also be a possible cause for health concerns because of the more open regulations in other countries to pesticides and other chemicals sprayed on crops to reduce pests.

“We have border inspections of course but things that go wrong with crops usually happen at the growing source, ” Richards explained. “So there could be some added risk.”

Adding insult to injury is the fact that there is also a labor shortage in California right now, something that is not only aggravating prices but also causing millions of pounds of produce to literally rot on the vine.

“It’s like a perfect storm,” he said. “We don’t have enough water or enough workers to pick crops. So much food is left in the fields. It’s just adding to the woes.”

Wily old song goes that, “it never rains in California”, millions of people across the United States are now praying that it starts raining sometime very soon.

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