Amid the rhetoric of doom, California agriculture has so far been growing its way through drought:
Even as many farmers cut back their planting, California’s farm economy overall has been surprisingly resilient. Farm employment increased by more than 1 percent last year. Gross farm revenue from crop production actually increased by two-tenths of 1 percent last year, to $33.09 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That’s from Dale Kasler and Phillip Reese at the Sacramento Bee, who have have had a couple of recent stories challenging the apocalyptic framing around the impact of drought on California agriculture. Last week they noted in more detail the observation that, pockets of trouble notwithstanding, overall agricultural employment in California is up:
Overall, there was more farm work available in California last year than during any other year at least since 1990, when modern record-keeping began, according to the state Employment Development Department. And hired farmworkers collectively made more money, too, separate federal data show.
This is exactly what Bob Young, an agricultural economist, was getting at back in the 1960s when he described the transformation of central Arizona agriculture as water supplies declined. As water runs short, Young argued, its users adapt.
As Kasler and Reese are reporting, it has not been easy for farmers. But this suggests that what I’ve come to think of as “the California experiment” – the deepest shock on this sort of time scale to a large, 21st century agricultural/urban economy – has much to teach us about adaptation and resilience when the water runs low.