California's Drought Means Higher Prices for Many Commodities


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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Following a near-record dry winter, California's agriculture sector will likely take a big hit this year and that could drive up food prices.

As summer approaches, California's three-year drought is intensifying.

The California Department of Water Resources found that after a near-record dry winter, the statewide snowpack's water content was only 18% of average for May 1.  As the snowpack normally provides about a third of water for California's farms and cities, the department says half-full reservoirs will not be significantly replenished by a melting snowpack this spring and summer.

That does not bode well for the state's agriculture.

California produces over 250 different crops and leads the nation in production of 75 commodities. It is the sole producer of 12 commodities including almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, olives and walnuts, according to the state's Department of Water Resources.

And commodities like these need a lot of water.  According to Mother Jones, one almond needs more than a gallon of water, one walnut needs almost 5 gallons of water and a head of broccoli needs nearly 5.5 gallons.

Professor Timothy Richards of Arizona State University estimates this will translate into higher prices for consumers.  He says to expect the biggest percentage jumps in prices for avocados and lettuce -- 28% and 34% respectively.  But he says the most vulnerable crops are those that use the most water and simply won't be grown, and those sensitive to reductions in irrigation.

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