Despite drought, California agriculture adds 30,000 jobs

It’s increasingly clear that the lessons we’re learning from California’s drought are not those we expected. Far from the doom of so much of the rhetoric, Californians are adapting to scarcity with remarkable aplomb.

The latest data point, from Phillip Reese and Dale Kasler of the Sacramento Bee, may be the most interesting yet:

California’s farm industry kept growing in 2015 despite a fourth year of drought, adding 30,000 jobs even as farmers idled huge swaths of land because of water shortages.

Preliminary estimates from the state Employment Development Department show farm employment increased by an average 7 percent from 2014.

Reese and Kasler give a good accounting of how this happened, as farmers shifted out of low value crops and into higher value crops that both employ more people and return more crop revenue:

Chris Thornberg, an economist at Beacon Economics in Los Angeles, said the figures indicate the farm industry is exaggerating the effects of the drought on its bottom line. He said the fact that revenues keep growing proves that too much water has been spent on low-value crops such as hay. Take those field crops out of production and it barely touches revenue, and employment keeps growing.


  1. This general trend comports with the Next Steps finding of the Colorado River Water Supply and Availability Study (Chapt. 4 ) that ag is more productive and using less water. This was a finding taking in the whole CR Basin not just Cal. See A video of a presentation of this during the Colorado River District website by looking at its 2015 Annual Seminar video gallery. While there, check out John Fleck’s own presentation.

  2. The risk is that high-value crops are grown on perennials — trees and vines. Doing so hardens the demand of the ag sector which will certainly go screaming to the leg and the SWRCB that they cannot allow such high-value assets to be killed off and therefore they are entitled to relief from groundwater pumping restrictions.

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