Fellow Story

How Will Farmers Respond to the California Drought?

Editor's Note: This article originially appeared on the UC Davis Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior's blog.

How will farmers respond to the drought? Following recent announcements about potential zero allocations from the California State Water Project, and the likelihood for other water allocations to follow suit, many are wondering how California agriculture will cope with the recent drought. The Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior is today releasing a new policy brief designed to answer this very question.

Using data from a farmer survey conducted by UC Davis researchers in 2011 in the Central Valley (Yolo County), we discuss farmers water uses in dry and normal years, their likely drought adaptation strategies, and how different kinds of water uses are likely to adopt different practices.

The main takeaways are:

  1. Farmers shift away from surfacewater to groundwater in dry years
  2. Amongst all farmers, the most likely practices they will adopt for drought adaptation include pumping more groundwater, adopting drip or micro-sprinkler irrigation, and allocating surfacewater to a smaller percentage of their acreage
  3. Farmers who shift towards more groundwater in dry years, are more likely on average, than all other farmers to adopt a variety of different drought adaptation strategies.
  4. Amongst groundwater shifters, pumping more groundwater and drilling more wells is the first line of defense- conservation measures are a secondary option.

This analysis sheds light on how farmers may actually change their management practices to adapt to the drought conditions and can enable policymakers to understand what the aggregated impact of these individual farm decisions could be. For example, if the drought continues and groundwater is relied on heavily, the region may face problems with groundwater recharge. Simultaneously, farmer's interest in drought tolerant and less water intensive crops demonstrates a clear need for continued research at university and industry levels.

Additional Resources

Read the policy brief