How California’s Worsening Drought Could Make Your Grocery Bill Spike

Written by Emily Atkin

If what the tree rings say is true, California hasn’t been this dry in more than 500 years. If what the leading climate scientists say is true, that dryness will only get worse in the coming years. And if what economics predict is true, grocery bills nationwide may be some of the first things to suffer.

When conditions are ripe, California’s $44.7 billion agricultural industry is “the supermarket of the world,” producing nearly half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in America. The most abundant source of produce comes from Central Valley — deemed “The Land of A Billion Vegetables” by the New York Times — which produces 8 percent of America’s agricultural output by value.

But now, Central Valley is the biggest victim of the state’s three-year drought. And there are no sign that things will get any better in the coming years.

“[It's becoming] increasingly clear the region won’t see relief from the devastating drought anytime soon,” Kevin Kerr, editor of, told MarketWatch. “Retail prices for many key agricultural commodities could jump.”

Specifically, MarketWatch’s report says, consumers may see higher prices for beef and milk. Less water means less grass for cows to graze, forcing ranchers either to slim down herds or sell cattle.

And it’s not just the animals. With water scarce, farmers are unable to plant as many seeds, so prices of artichokes, celery, broccoli and cauliflower could rise at least 10 percent according to Milt McGiffen, a vegetable specialist at the University of California at Riverside. California is the top producing state for lemons, limes, peaches, strawberries, almonds, walnuts and pistachios — these and other crops could face production problems.

Plants that grow on vines and trees are in an especially tough position, as Mother Jones notes. Those plants have to be maintained year-round. And while it takes more than one drought season to kill a tree, California’s drought has been long-running. It takes time for supplies to replenish, too — meaning spiked prices could last more than just one season, even if the drought were to end.

“However bad this year, it will be worse next,” Ken Shackel, a tree-crop expert at the University of California-Davis, told Mother Jones. “Really bad this year means really, really bad next year.”

This year, California farmers will likely leave 500,000 acres unplanted — about 12 percent of last year’s acreage, according to the executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. Because yields will be so bad, a report in Ag Professional notes, some farmers may even make more money selling their water than they can make growing crops.

“We are at that point the risks for the future are really significant,” Peter Gleick, president of the nonpartisan research organization Pacific Institute, told Bloomberg News. “We have to fundamentally change the way we manage water.”

In declaring a drought state of Emergency on Jan. 17, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Jr. called on residents to voluntarily cut water consumption by 20 percent. So far, though, only a handful of cities have enacted mandatory water restrictions. And as the consumption cut was announced so recently, it is too soon to tell whether people are actually following them. As it is now, California needs 15 to 36 inches of rain to end the drought.

Until then, California and those who eat its crops may have to brace for the worst, as the state’s recent dry spells grow longer and stronger — a fact many leading scientists link to climate change. As Climatologist James Hansen told ClimateProgress’ own Joe Romm, “Increasingly intense droughts in California, all of the Southwest, and even into the Midwest have everything to do with human-made climate change.” The warming by itself helps dry out the soil and reduce the snowpack, robbing the region of a reservoir needed for the summer dry season.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Donna F.
Donna F4 years ago


Karen Whitworth
Karen Whitworth4 years ago

This California drought was caused by geoenginneering, or chemtrails, They spray chemicals in the air just before it is supposed to rain, and it prevents the rain from reaching the ground. This is being done by the military, and you can find out all about it on utube " What in the World are they spraying" and "Why in the world are they spraying". Learn about it and please tell others, only being aware can we help ourselves!

BJ J4 years ago

Growing your own food as much as possible is good. However, prices for everything continue to soar mainly due to out-of-control greed with any excuse "they" can come up with.

Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld4 years ago

Comparing this year's drought to past seasons:

Funny how some people can blame the Republicans, but it was the Democrats who siphoned off the excess water in years of plenty.!

Ve G.
Valentina G4 years ago

oh wow

Mike Kelly
Mike Kelly4 years ago

(Continued from Below_

We got rid of enough republicans in Congress that they could no longer keep our State in the dumpster, we voted to tax the rich a teeny, tiny bit more, and now we can fund the desalinization of cropland water so the rest of America can still be fed without having to beg wealthy republicans for crumbs.

Mike Kelly
Mike Kelly4 years ago

Did everyone read how the State of California is working on this problem? Our State is funding the desalinization of water trapped just below the surface. From NY Times:

"FIREBAUGH, Calif. — The giant solar receiver installed on a wheat field here in California’s agricultural heartland slowly rotates to track the sun and capture its energy. The 377-foot array, however, does not generate electricity but instead creates heat used to desalinate water. ... Financed by the Panoche Water District with state funds, the $1 million solar thermal desalinization plant is removing impurities from drainage water at half the cost of traditional desalinization, according to Aaron Mandell, a founder of WaterFX."

How did California do it you ask? How could we afford to build this solar powered desalinization unit? Good question.

You see, first we had to raise taxes on the spoiled, doughy, wealthy heirs of billionaires in our State. Next we had to get rid of republicans in our Houses of Congress. You see, in California, if 33% of Congress fights any new taxes on the wealthy then the wealthy don't get taxed and can continue sponging off America while hiding their money in the Cayman Islands, without paying their Patriotic share of the cost of running the country they claim to love.

We got rid of enough republicans in Congress that they could no longer keep our State in the dumpster, we voted to tax the rich a teeny, tiny bit more, and now we can fund the desalinization of

Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo4 years ago

This is truly horrifying, and it will only get worse. Hunger will grow in what was the land of plenty. I wonder when world leaders will take action to protect the planet. Thank you for the news.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago