USDA Spends $20 Million to Help California Farmers Fight Drought

Feb 04, 2014 5:08 pm ET

Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture is spending $20 million to help farmers and ranchers in California who are facing the state’s driest year on record.

The funding will be prioritized for cropland that is receiving 15 percent or less of normal water allocation, the USDA said in a statement today. The money is slated for improving irrigation efficiency and stabilizing fallowed farmland, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today on a conference call with reporters. The government will probably announce more drought aid later this week, he said.

California is the country’s largest producer of fruit and vegetable crops including strawberries, avocados and almonds. The state could suffer as much as $5 billion in drought-related revenue losses from farming and related businesses, according to estimates by the California Farm Water Coalition, an industry group. Last week, California officials said that for the first time in state history, they won’t be able to deliver water to contractors who supply two-thirds of the population and a million acres of farmland.

“It really is a serious matter when California agriculture is faced with a challenge,” Vilsack said. Climate change “has provided for a more intense and severe drought, with precipitation at an all-time low,” he said.

--With assistance from Michael B. Marois in Sacramento. Editors: Millie Munshi, Joe Richter