rethink farming
rethink farming

How many farms can Arizona and California lose before we feel it at the grocery store?

Danny Mark, an irrigation foreman at Ramona Farms, closes off a canal gate after flood irrigating an alfalfa crop with water from the Casa Grande Canal at Ramona Farms in Sacaton in the Gila River Indian Community on February 9, 2022.

Danny Mark, an irrigation foreman at Ramona Farms, closes off a canal gate after flood irrigating an alfalfa crop with water from the Casa Grande Canal at Ramona Farms in Sacaton in the Gila River Indian Community on February 9, 2022.

Western farmers are going to have to shrink their footprint.

They’re going to have to find ways to use to less water, and they’re going to have to farm fewer acres.

It’s unavoidable, given the water challenges we are now facing.

Agriculture uses 72% of water in Arizona and roughly that along the Colorado River basin. We’ll never fill the gaping chasm between supply and demand if farmers and ranchers aren’t involved.

But how much can we shrink the size of agriculture – particularly in Arizona and California, which produce nearly two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and vegetables – without wreaking havoc at the supermarket?

That’s a harder question to answer.

Thousands of acres have already been fallowed

Multiple factors are contributing to the higher prices and intermittent product shortages we see in stores now, including the war in Ukraine and higher transportation and fertilizer costs. It’s hard to isolate the impact of water scarcity, given the static in market.

But it’s likely playing a role, given how many fields have already come out of production and how many more could soon join them.

An estimated 690,000 acres – at least 7% of statewide production – have been fallowed this year in California. That’s up from roughly 395,000 acres fallowed in 2021, mostly in the Central Valley, where a prolonged drought has dried up in-state surface water supplies, leaving farmers with little to none of the water on which they typically rely.

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