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Fri, Nov. 15

California drought expected to hit shoppers' wallets

Because of supply issues, produce prices may increase.

Because of supply issues, produce prices may increase.

KINGMAN - California's ongoing, record-breaking drought is expected to have a significant effect on produce prices in the near future.

According to a study conducted by Timothy Richards, a professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, grocery shoppers across the country "can expect to see a short supply of certain fruits and vegetables in stores and to pay higher prices for those items."

"You're probably going to see the biggest produce price increases on avocados, berries, broccoli, grapes, lettuce, melons, peppers, tomatoes and packaged salads," said Richards in a written statement.

"We can expect to see the biggest percentage jumps in prices for avocados and lettuce - 28 percent and 34 percent, respectively. People are the least price-sensitive when it comes to those items, and they're more willing to pay what it takes to get them."

Wendy Fink-Weber, senior director of communications at Western Growers, said that crop yields are not fully estimated until it is time for harvest.

"The harvests follow the sun. They start in winter in Arizona and, by April, they are making their way up to Bakersfield and into the Central Valley," she said.

"This year our farmers have fallowed 800,000 acres. Most of those fallowed farms are almond and pistachio crops. Less water for these crops means smaller almonds and pistachios."

Fink-Weber also said that grocers set the prices of produce, not the farmers. If domestic supplies are low, grocers will turn to foreign imports to meet demand.

As of April 15, California had drought conditions in 99.8 percent of the state, with 68.8 percent of the state in extreme drought conditions or worse. Last year was the driest year on record, with a yearly precipitation average of 7 inches. The second-driest year was in 1898, which had a yearly precipitation average of 11.6 inches.

California Gov. Edmund Brown declared a state of emergency Jan. 17 in response to the record dry year.

The declaration directs state agencies to use less water, greatly expands public water conservation campaigns, gives state water officials more flexibility to manage supply and helps accelerate funding and aid to farmers who need the water for crop.

The California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014 recently passed the House of Representatives and has been introduced in the Senate.

The bill would give agencies more flexibility on using water held back for reservoirs and other environmental reasons.

California was responsible for 34 percent of the United States' vegetable production and 48.7 percent of the United States' fruit production in 2012. The agriculture industry of California produces $18.8 billion worth of commodities, making up 13.3 percent of all agriculture in the United States.

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