Western Droughts Impact Food Supply: Navigating Climate Change

By George Nielsen, January 21, 2022

Tags: Food, Supply Chain, climate change, drought

It’s no secret that the West has dealt with severe and prolonged droughts throughout the years, causing cost changes, production shortages, and more. Now, with more recent and severe drought patterns, experts are considering what this could mean for the food supply chain. In this article, we examine different elements of the chain that this drought system could impact, and review more sustainable practices that could be put in place to mitigate risks. 

What is the current status of drought conditions in the West? 

The Western United States, specifically California,  is attributed to contributing the top-performing cash receipts from all farming growth and purchases through 2021. This is over 20% of the national average from other contributors. Shockingly, California has also seen more drought conditions than any other state historically which have been worsening over time. What can consumers expect from the current drought conditions…and the forecast for the future? 

Currently, drought conditions point to worsening supply chain issues in the future. Recent reports from the IPCC, otherwise known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have shown that humans have direct involvement with the disruption. They have also found that increased temperatures have accompanied periods of drought. Due to the overall lack of sustainable systems or environmental considerations that are needed for the scale of the supply chain, we can expect megadrought conditions for now until improvement is found. 

What are the impacts of the Western drought? 

Perhaps the more obvious impact that the drought in the West has on the food supply chain begins at the very bottom, most volatile, and crucial levels of the chain: the production element. In severe drought conditions, farmers are unable to source the amounts of crops that are needed to meet demand or to turn a significant profit. This can create disruption at the higher levels. 

Once scarcity becomes apparent, prices will naturally rise to try to halt the rush of demand for the crop. This can also result in significantly less demand, as well as increased levels of competition in the free-market model of the food production space. The effects of this are not to be understated, as this can significantly impact the ability of farmers to stay in business and weather the drought conditions until more amicable conditions are available for planting. 

The States and local governments also profit off of what the farmers make as well through taxation. When there is a significant drought that is ongoing and affecting the ability for farmers to profit, this causes less money to be available for these types of entities. In turn, this limits the ability to offer more programs and resources to the local community members. 

Building sustainable practices from the ground up 

Sustainability is key in order to run an environmentally sustainable and responsible business. Many farms and businesses are currently considering what their first step into sustainability will look like. Water availability should be the first priority when it comes to creating a sustainability plan for a variety of reasons: 

  • Water instability creates incredible scarcity. Humans require water to survive. In the event of a drought, this can lead to price hikes and instability that takes a toll on the local community. 
  • Water instability causes increased environmental strain. Plants, natural fauna, and other key resources often die or suffer in periods of water scarcity. 
  • Water instability causes more emissions to go out into the environment. Emissions that are released from water transport processes harm the environment. 

Beyond water sustainability plans, there are also additional steps that individual farmers and smaller communities can take to mitigate the risks and effects of climate change and drought conditions. 

What methods are available to assist farmers in drought conditions? 

Farmers are often subject to unfavorable weather changes that impact their ability to profit and survive. However, there are many protections and avenues available to minimize the risk and effects that droughts pose: 

Invest in crop insurance 

Enrolling in a farm or crop insurance plan is an excellent investment for farmers in any part of the country. Even if your area is not prone to drought, these plans also generally protect against extreme weather that affects your crops, such as tornadoes or blizzards. This can be a great first step to take to ensure that the ability to survive and restart the growing process is as protected as possible against unforeseen events. 

Choose drought-resistant crops 

Farmers may consider choosing a drought-resistant crop plan to minimize the risk and the waste involved with the growth process heading into a year of projected drought. This can also be significantly less strenuous on the environment if resources are already scarce. 

Create a drought-resistant irrigation plan 

Resources are available to help farmers in times of drought. The NRCS, otherwise known as the National Resources Conservation Service, has consultants that are able to assist farmers in creating a low-impact irrigation plan that works for their unique operation. Enhancements can range depending on specific needs and may include soil enrichment or material upgrades. 

Employing sustainable practices for more stable food future 

Prevention is key when it comes to drought and weather-resistant operations and optimization for farmers. Beginning to embrace more sustainable practices in daily operations can lead to a more safe and environmentally-conscious future. For more information about how Inecta’s software solutions can help you to enjoy more transparency and centralization in your farm’s operations, please visit our website at https://www.inecta.com/.

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