Apr 6, 2006

The Cost of Rain

"Oh well, it's better than a drought."

That's the mantra of rain-soaked long-timers like my neighbor, who remember the devastation a prolonged dry spell can wreak on California's normally verdant landscape and easy lifestyle.

But there are direct costs to all this rain, too. The Sacramento Bee reports, "for area farmers who depend on specific soil content and dry days for spring planting, the ever-changing weather patterns have transcended bothersome and become a burden. From fruit farmers to wheat growers, a majority of those in the agriculture business have suffered planting delays and are facing harvest and yield uncertainty because of the wet weather plaguing the state."

Rice, cherries, tomatoes, melons, and strawberries are some of the top crops being monitored closely for losses. Almonds, a $2 billion crop, are particularly vulnerable, as the bees necessary to pollinate them only work during a short season of warm, still, dry weather that has been elusive this year.

According to the most recent data available from United States Department of Agriculture, California leads the nation in agriculture with about 26.4 million acres of farmland dedicated to 350 crops, generating $31.8 billion in 2004. Although the costs of this year's planting delays won't be known until June, almost every crop -- as well as the $1.6 billion livestock industry -- has been affected.

Cattle "may benefit later in the season from lush grazing pastures due to above-average rainfall," says the Sacramento Bee, but right now "ranchers [must supplement] their cattle's diet with hay, an added expense, as well as worrying about hoof rot and the cattle not gaining the 3 pounds per day that they usually average this time of year." That means that prices of beef and milk, as well as all the other crops affected by the weather, probably will cost consumers more at market in the months to come.

Oh well, it's better than an earthquake.

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