Central Valley farmers are already leaving at least a half-million acres unplanted this growing season due to the drought and lack of water being allocated to their farms, and you can count on finding less selection, as well as higher prices, in your nearest produce section this summer and fall as a result. It's not entirely clear what we'll see shortages of and grocery chains can always call up South America for what they need but you can bet that lettuces, strawberries, peppers, and melons, a lot of which are grown in California, are going to be getting pricy and will be in short supply.
As the Oakland Tribune reports, one Northern California organic farm, Full Belly Farm, is "cutting back on water-intensive crops like corn and melons, which means that there will be less variety at Bay Area farmers markets." There's also some talk about rice farming taking a backseat to orchard crops, since fruit trees are a multi-year investment and can't be left without water.
Also, the drought spells bad news for wine-drinkers, as California wine production is likely to go way down this year, and therefore already steep prices are going to rise, making competition from cheap Australian and South American wines that much stiffer.
Farming uses 80 percent of California's water, so it stands to reason that in the driest year on record, some farms are going to have to sacrifice and suffer. However farmers have already learned to adapt with less. As the Chron reports, "Central Valley farmers now use 2 million acre-feet less water than 25 years ago and grow twice as much per gallon." This is largely due to drip irrigation, which brings with it its own problems, one of which: sinkholes.
But setting aside the pricy cantaloupes and strawberries you're going to be seeing at Safeway this summer, farmers themselves are being hurt by the sky-high price of alfalfa, which is grown primarily to feed cattle. Alfalfa has been one of the first crops to be abandoned because of how much water it requires, and because so much of it is exported to Japan to feed their cows.
So, don't say we didn't warn you when you go looking for cheap and abundant watermelons this Fourth of July. They may not be there.