Will Droughts Affect Food Prices in 2014?


Growing up in the Northeast, the word drought never really had much significance for me. Sure, I might have heard about it on the news once in a while but it rarely ever affected produce production or anything else in my hometown. Of course, I was not responsible for grocery shopping so I never really noticed the effect that a drought on the other side of the country could have on produce prices in New York.

This year, California is facing one of the worst droughts in modern history. Last year was dry and this year is even worse. When I first decided to write this article a couple of weeks ago, California was only at 9% of its average annual precipitation. After some decent rain in the last few days the state is still only at 20% of where it should be and farmers are already feeling the effects of this drought as planting season nears.

To put this into perspective, consider Shasta Lake in Northern California. As of this writing, Shasta Lake is 100 feet below its normal level. Literally, navigational buoys that normally float in the water are sitting on the dry lake bed (as seen below).


We live in a global economy and the fact is that the drought in California affects us all in some way or another. Although California’s Central Valley only represents 1% of the farmland in the United States, it produces 8% of our nation’s agricultural output by value. Over 230 crops are typically grown in the Central Valley each year – everything from tomatoes to grapes to almonds to olives and many others.

In fact, farmers in the Central Valley produce 70% of the world’s almonds supply totaling nearly 600 million pounds of almonds each year. The drought this year is so severe that many commercial farming operations have elected not to grow other crops in the hopes of saving their almond orchards during this water crisis.

It doesn’t matter if you live in the rainiest city in America, this drought will affect you and your family. Higher prices at the grocery store for both produce and derivative products are one of the most noticeable changes. I went to purchase a bottle of olive oil at the grocery store the other day and already the price has doubled from what it was just a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it will continue to get worse as supplies dwindle.

In addition to higher prices, consider the lost revenue already being experienced by farmers. With only a fraction of the water allotment normally provided to each farm, many farms are being forced to cut production drastically and in some cases, not plant any seeds at all. This lost revenue hurts the economy tremendously in an area almost completely dependent on farm revenue to stay afloat.

Another serious economic impact is the loss of jobs. One news outlet recently reported that as many as 4,000 jobs have been lost already as a direct result of this year’s drought. In some communities, this means unemployment rates as high as 40% and lines of people waiting to get a meal from aid stations that have been set up throughout the Central Valley.

As a society, we have become dependent on commercial agriculture. Even those of us who try to live a resilient lifestyle take for granted the availability of fresh produce in the local grocery store. The seriousness of this drought serves as a reminder to us all that nothing is guaranteed and that resiliency is much more important than a simple “lifestyle” choice.

The serious drought in California is affecting more than just farmers. Water shortages in many counties have left residents without water for gardening and other essential tasks. Some people have resorted to purchasing large bottles of water, but this is not economically feasible for everyone.

Cattle farmers are also feeling the strain. The lack of water has forced many ranchers to sell some or all of their cattle as there is simply not enough water to support the herd. This could severely impact the price of meat; although it is likely to be a more localized problem (unlike produce prices).

Gray water recycling systems are an excellent way to combat a water situation, although the legality of these systems is still a gray area. If legal in your area, a gray water system is capable of irrigating an entire garden using water that normally gets sent to a processing facility or septic tank. We have covered gray water systems in Resilient Strategies; check it out for ideas and inspiration.

Rainwater harvesting is also a great solution. Check your local laws, as rainwater harvesting is far too regulated. Studies show that less than 3% of the harvested water would actually make it downstream water supplies. We have released a great report providing step by step instructions on how to have Water Abundance (here).


No matter where you live in the country (or the world), it is time to start taking produce production into our own hands. As planting season approaches in many areas of the country I think it is time we take a good look at our own gardens and try to find ways where we can improve output and quality using resiliency best practices. If you do not already have a guard, there has never been a better time to start than this year because produce prices could quickly get out of control throughout the country as the far-reaching effects of this drought season come into play in the next few months.

Effective gardening isn’t just about clearing out huge expanses of land and planting rows and rows of crops. Many people produce far more than they can consume and small backyard gardens. Many of them accomplish this using the techniques we discussed on this website. Vertical gardening, potato towers and effective use of natural fertilizer such as compost are just a few examples of ways we can increase the productivity of our home gardens regardless of how much or how little space we have available.

Just remember that events anywhere in the world can have a serious impact on the entire global community. In this case, the drought in California could drive produce prices sky high throughout the United States. We should be looking for new ways to insulate ourselves from these phenomenon whenever possible, even if it’s as simple as stepping outside our comfort zone and trying something new that can increase our resilience in spite of future uncertainties.


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  • Robert Castillo

    The coming draught in CA is not going to help the prognosticated raise in food prices, it’s the result of many bad administrations, funds have been used to finance worthless causes and projects instead of putting the money where’s it’s needed. The solutions in the article above are good, yet we need macro solutions for macro problems.

    We could’ve began the desalinization of the Pacific some time ago, since the 1970’s we knew CA was having sporadic problems with water. In WWII, all the ally-occupied Indonesian islands had potable water by means of condensers that took salt out of sea water.

    Israel, since the 1950’s, has been desalinizing the Mediterranean for drinking, bathing and irrigation water, but in Israel Israelis love their land; in America we have Americans turned traitors by becoming communist and even joining international bankers and cabals. However a good Spring cleaning in Congress by voting the dinosaurs out and bringing new blood in should do the trick.

  • Sara

    I don’t believe the beef problem will be localized. Herd levels are at a 63 year low. A herd takes years to build back up. Hog farmers are also struggling significantly. Chicken…who knows where its actually coming from- with China being allowed to import chicks and sell us back processed chicken; without any country of origin labelling.

  • terre

    I wish you had touched on how ‘water-intensive’ some growers methods are. For example almond farming uses 1 gal per almond- according to most sources.