Food prices and the California drought

California WaterBlog

Water, a precious commodity, irrigates a field in southern San Joaquin Valley. wheat. near Bakersfield. Photo nu John R. Chacon/California Department of Water ResourcesA wheat field near Bakersfield, Calif., March 2015. Photo by John Chacon/California Department of Water Resources

By Daniel A. Sumner

California’s drought has been tough on farms and especially painful for farm workers in the Central Valley. But consumers of California-produced food have been spared large price increases.

Despite the severity of the drought and California’s dominant market shares in many foods – especially fruits, vegetables and tree nuts – consumers saw only small food price effects last year and are unlikely to notice much price impact in 2015. The reasons derive from California’s geography, irrigation plumbing system, the economics that drive the distribution of irrigation water among crops and the basics of food supply and demand.

The reduction in irrigated crop acreage – about a half million acres last year and likely much more this year – has been and will be mostly field crops such as rice, cotton…

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