Consumers could see prices rise as Western droughts worsen

Worsening western droughts

Consumers could see prices rise as western drought worsens

As Curtis Thomas stepped out of his truck and planted his boots on the dried yellow grass in California, he was reminded of how hard his job of raising cattle is.

Thomas, who has been in the business for more than a decade, said he’s always forced to adapt to the constantly changing weather situations.

"If you don’t have water, you don’t have anything," Thomas said as he opened a gate to let the cows roam free on his land. "I think this is the worst so far, it’s gotten progressively worse."

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Thomas is one of the many ranchers dealing with the drought conditions. However, he said, other farmers have it much worse.

"I can’t afford to be hauling water to those animals every day, so I had to make some arrangements and change my game plan," he said.

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Thomas said he was forced to move his cattle because his well dried up on another plot of land. Though Thomas leased the land he had his cattle on, he said he’s now out the money he spent because the cattle can’t survive there.

Other ranchers, Thomas said, have been forced to sell off their cows for major losses, creating a surplus of beef.

California leads the United States in agriculture production; however, the industry continues to be impacted by the weather conditions.

Nine Western states are dealing with exceptional drought conditions, according to the Department of Agriculture.

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Thomas said the drought conditions and wildfires are making things more difficult this year.

"You reach a point where you’re just flat out, you have no more native pasture," Thomas said.

California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross said it’s possible food prices could rise due to the worsening conditions. However, since the growing season is far from over, she said it could be too early to tell how much prices could rise and how much of the supply could be impacted.

"I think it’s too early to say this could be lasting. It could be a surge and then we’ll taper off," Ross said.

Hundreds of thousands of acres have also been burned by the wildfires in the West.

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Ross said the current drought conditions are similar to ones in 2015, where the state lost billions of dollars in potential profit.

"Over a three-year period of time, over $5 billion in losses of crops that weren't being produced, marketed and harvested," she said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that beef prices could rise by another 4% by the end of the year and fresh fruit prices could rise by another 6%. 

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