California’s drought – is this what climate adaptation looks like?

Bloomberg’s Alan Bjerga last week gave us a nice tour through the details of how California’s agricultural businesses are responding to drought conditions. He notes especially a shift, was water gets more expensive, into higher valued crops. Stuff that can be grown in places where water is cheap and plentiful, like what, into high-dollar crops like almonds:

In the long term, California will probably move away from commodity crops produced in bulk elsewhere to high-value products that make more money for the water used, said Richard Howitt, a farm economist at the University of California at Davis. The state still has advantages in almonds, pistachios and wine grapes, and its location means it will always be well-situated to export what can be profitably grown….

That may mean less farmland in production as growers abandon corn and cotton because of the high cost of water. Corn acreage in California has dropped 34 percent from last year, and wheat is down 53 percent, according to the USDA.

Cotton planting, Fred Starrh’s one-time mainstay, has fallen 60 percent over the decade, while almonds are up by more than half.

This is the necessary step beyond the “OMG, 99.8 percent of California is in severe drought” to look at the specifics of what people do in response to changing climatic conditions and water availability, whether on an annual basis or when stationarity is knocked out from under them. In California, one of the things they’re apparently doing is growing a lot less cotton and wheat.


  1. Add rice to the list. South Louisiana is wet enough for rice as is SE Tx, Might have to reclaim some land though. Growing rice in Ca makes no sense due to its water demands. (All be it that Ca grows medium short grain rice and the eastern places grow long grain rice.

  2. I learned ag econ from Howitt, and his point is VERY relevant. Most farmers tend to underplay their flexibility when talking about how much water they “need” but not when allocating the water they have.

  3. Pingback: Farmers’ economic flexibility | jfleck at inkstain

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