Research: Farmers benefit as a group from drought

Research by a University of Idaho ag economist shows that droughts are good for farmers as a group because they cause production to decrease and prices to increase.
Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on April 19, 2017 11:16AM

Last changed on April 19, 2017 11:20AM

Irrigation water runs along the dried-up ditch between the rice farms to provide water for the rice fields on Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Richvale, Calif. A researcher from the University of Idaho says while drought hurts individual farmers, it benefits farmers as a group through higher prices.

Associated Press file photo

Irrigation water runs along the dried-up ditch between the rice farms to provide water for the rice fields on Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Richvale, Calif. A researcher from the University of Idaho says while drought hurts individual farmers, it benefits farmers as a group through higher prices.


BOISE — Droughts can be harsh on the farmers who are directly impacted, but farmers as a group benefit from droughts because they reduce production and drive prices up, according to a University of Idaho ag economists.

“The old thing that drought is bad for farmers is just not there,” Garth Taylor said. “The sky is not falling when there’s a drought.”

Taylor pointed out that during the most recent extended drought period in the United States, the value of crop production in the U.S. set records in 2012 and 2013.

Crop value records were set in California from 2012-2014 despite that state suffering a severe drought and records were also set in Idaho, Washington and Oregon in 2012.

During the severe drought that plagued Washington in 2015, crop value reached its second highest level ever, behind 2012.

Taylor’s presentation came during a joint meeting of the Western Snow Conference and Weather Modification Association here April 18

“That was a very unique perspective and view on drought that I had not heard before,” moderator Mel Kunkel, an Idaho Power hydrometeorologist, told attendees. “It gives me something to think about.”

Taylor said he studied crop production values, farm income and weather data in nine western states as part of his study and used 37 different equations.

In Idaho, he found that during nine drought periods since 1958, farm income or farm GDP in the state reached record levels.

Despite droughts being good for farmers in the aggregate, they’re still hard on many individual farmers, Taylor said.

“Droughts are mean, vicious, local things,” he said. “But drought is good for farmers, especially if it happens to (you) and not to Garth.”

Drought achieves what many farmers know needs to happen — less production — to better balance supply and demand, Taylor said.

“The more the quantity goes down, the higher the prices,” he said. “That is very much overlooked when we look at the effects of drought and climate change.”

Taylor told Capital Press that many farmers are initially shocked when he shares this data with them “but when you explain it to them, they understand. They realize what you’re talking about.”

“You’ve heard farmers say, gee, if we could just get everybody to reduce potato production 10 percent this year or onion production 20 percent, we’d do all right with prices,” he said. “When you have good water years, it causes prices to go down because you’re over-producing.”



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