California Floods Are Affecting National Food Supply: Here's How

It's not all bad news for once!

A woman adding a bunch of celery to her grocery basket in the produce aisle.
Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

America is known for being the land of the free, home of the brave, and the place of seasonal produce available year-round. One of the benefits of the USA is its vast land mass with a variety of climates. This allows many vegetables and fruit to be available when they would otherwise be out of season. Like oranges for example. Normally they need tropical climates to grow, but due to the consistent climate of Florida, the state is the leading producer of oranges in the country. Similarly, California has a consistent climate that is also utilized for national food production year round. So the recent flooding there got us thinking: Is this going to affect the food supply?

California: "The Golden State" of Food Production

With dozens of crops and livestock, California is the leading producer in the United States. Those products account for more than $20 billion in value, and over 13 percent of the country's entire agricultural value. In addition to commodity crops, it is also are the sole producer of speciality crops, including the following:

  • Almonds
  • Artichokes
  • Clingstone Peaches
  • Dried Plums
  • Figs
  • Olives
  • Persimmons
  • Pomegranates
  • Raisins
  • Walnuts

Due to the state's temperate climate, it's the perfect place to grow a wide variety of crops that would normally have to be imported. Unfortunately, climate change has created some hurdles for agriculture. In recent years it's been drought, but this year it's flooding.

The History of Flooding in California

Before we dive into the recent flooding that has catapulted California, we should mention that the state has a history of flooding. For hundreds of years massive floods have swept California, including the big one, The Great Flood of 1862. The Great Flood of 1862 was a series of days where rain and snow dumped ten feet of water in central parts of California. Previously seen as a freak accident, new studies have shown that due to sediment deposits, storms of this magnitude have happened in California every other millennium or so. For a region that is known for its droughts, it is easy to forget its flooding history and how it affects the rest of the nation.

Recent Flooding in California

Studies have also shown that the recent climate change will continue to bring massive floods, doubling the risk of a mega-storm in the Central Valley region. At the beginning of the new year, torrential rain and snow caused major parts of California to flood, leaving fatalities, and destroyed property. Sounds familiar right? This phenomenon sounds similar to The Great Flood 1862. The cause of both major floods is called an "atmospheric river." This meteorological phenomenon accounts for 50% of California's total precipitation. Usually it is seen as a good thing, replenishing a drought season, but too much can cause a disaster.

How Do the Floods in California Affect the National Food Supply?

Of course flooding in any agricultural area will cause some harvesting issues and delays, but the California disaster uniquely raised worries for possibly causing a major hit to the food supply. Ocean Mist Farm, a fourth generation family-owned farm, is the largest producer of artichokes in the United Sates. They also grow Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower. According to Ocean Mist's Director of Marketing, Mark Munger, there were planting delays to their central California fields for the spring. They are also expecting tighter supplies of some of their crops, especially their leaf lettuce. Overall they have an optimistic outlook of the rain. They felt the rain would replenish the reservoirs and groundwater and that alone outweighs the negative impact.

On the bright side, California is known for their innovative agricultural practices. Projects aiming at retaining ground water are being tested and developed. Drip irrigation is also being used more for more efficient water sourcing. New seed varieties are being engineered to withstand droughts—Ocean Mist Farms is already testing new seeds that are hardier and more drought resistant.

The Bottom Line

The floods in California did impact agriculture that will affect the entire country. Planting had to be delayed for many crops, meaning some produce may be in short supply, especially delicate vegetables like leaf lettuce. But overall, the benefits of the rain restoring groundwater and reservoirs outweighs any negative effects, setting up California farmers for more successful seasons to come.

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