LOS ANGELES, California - For more than 70 years, California's San Joaquin Valley has been a hub of cotton growing in the state, but years of drought are forcing California farmers to switch to crops that yield more in revenue for the water used.
The crop of choice is the almond, according to a Bloomberg report, which says the nut makes more money per acre than cotton and is increasingly popular in Asia. These crop switches are being driven by a three-year drought that climate scientists say will continue for many years to come.
The crop switches affect many consumer goods, from the price of milk in China to the source of cherries eaten in North America. It has already inflamed competition for water between farmers and homeowners.
In addition to the crop switches, California farmers have attempted to adapt further to the drought conditions by investing in complex irrigation systems and using treated waste water to feed crops.
"There will be some definite changes, probably structural changes, to the entire industry" as drought persists, says American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. "Farmers have made changes. They've shifted. This is what farmers do."
Industry observers suggest that California will ultimately move away from commodity crops produced in bulk elsewhere to high-value products that make more money for the water used. However, this could prompt farmers to abandon farms altogether due to the high cost of water associated with producing crops such as corn and cotton.
Corn acreage in California is reportedly down 34% compared to last year, according to the USDA, while wheat acreage has fallen by 53%. These changes have a global impact as California, if it were a country, would be the world's ninth largest agricultural economy.