Business & Real Estate

California farm revenue plunges in 2015

Irrigation water runs in a dried-up ditch between rice farms in Richvale in 2014.
Irrigation water runs in a dried-up ditch between rice farms in Richvale in 2014. Associated Press file

Farm revenue in California dropped by more than $9 billion last year as the drought forced farmers to scramble for water and crucial commodities declined in price, according to data released by the state and federal governments Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s economic research service said farm income totaled $47.07 billion last year in California. That compared with a record $56.61 billion in 2014.

All through the drought, which has cut off deliveries of surface water supplies to large swaths of the Central Valley, farmers have been able to increase revenue by pumping more groundwater and switching to high-dollar crops such as almonds. Those strategies have brought criticisms from environmentalists and others about agriculture’s water use, particularly the depletion of aquifers in the San Joaquin Valley.

The figures from 2015 show the era of rising revenue has ended, at least for the time being.

“These numbers certainly reflect drought impacts in 2015, which led to the fallowing of 540,000 acres,” said the California Department of Food and Agriculture in a statement on the USDA numbers.

However, the state also noted that prices fell for such key commodities as milk and tree nuts, which represent two of the most important commodities produced in California. The state’s dairy business alone dropped by more than $3 billion last year. Almond sales went from $7.4 billion to $5.3 billion. Both declines were the result of price drops after several boom years.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler