Thursday, January 7, 2016

The 2015 drought – an early look at impacts

Derek Sandison
WSDA Director 

Washington’s 2015 drought hurt farmers across the state. But by how much? Finding an answer to that question is the goal of a WSDA study funded by the Department of Ecology.

Our agreement with Ecology, signed in November, requires a full and complete report by December 2016. The agreement also called for a preliminary report to be issued Dec. 31, 2015. Last week, we posted the “Interim Report: 2015 Drought and Agriculture” on our website.

As expected, researchers with WSDA’s Natural Resource Assessment Section found that the effect of drought on growing operations depended on a number of factors, including the type of crop, the crop’s farm gate value and, of course, the location of the farm itself.

Impacts in the hundreds of millions

It would be a mistake to tally up the economic losses estimated at this point and declare that figure to be the sum of the financial hit farmers, ranchers and other sectors of our agriculture industry suffered. That’s because at this early stage of our research, just a
handful of commodities had data we could use for this very preliminary assessment. Some of our state’s top commodities are not reflected in this report, such as potatoes, horticulture or livestock.

Still, it’s clear that economic losses are easily in the hundreds of millions of dollars in certain agricultural sectors and the number will surely grow. It will be months yet before the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service releases revenue figures for the 2015 Washington ag industry.

As the report writers state, “Regardless of precipitation or snow accumulation in the current water year, areas significantly impacted by the 2015 drought will continue to see yield or quality impacts in the 2016 crop.”

So, while the recent rainfall in Western Washington and the snowfall in the Cascades and Olympic mountains may make it seem like our state’s drought is over, for those in agriculture, the effects of the 2015 drought are just now beginning to be seen.