Courtesy of Washington Department
The Washington State Department of Agriculture will survey fields and question producers to assess how much last summer’s drought cost farmers and ranchers, a look back that officials say will help them plan ahead.
WSDA is scheduled to deliver a preliminary report by Dec. 31 to the state Department of Ecology, the agency that disburses drought-relief funds. WSDA will see how lingering drought damage affects 2016 production and submit a final report at the end of next year.
The report will put figures on economic and production losses by region and commodity, according to an agreement between DOE and WSDA. The study, according to officials, will identify the areas and crops hardest hit by the drought and help policymakers direct relief.
The assessment will attempt to measure the affect on yields and a wide-range of farm practices, including planting and harvest schedules, labor costs and the expense of activating emergency wells and pumps.
The state has not conducted such assessments after previous droughts.
WSDA in May estimated the drought would sap $1.2 billion from Washington’s $10 billion agriculture industry, a rough calculation based on the assumption that losses would be concentrated in Yakima Valley irrigation districts with junior-water rights. The valley is the state’s top-producing farm region, and growers with junior-water rights faced cutbacks because of low snowpacks.
WSDA’s estimate came before the state’s hottest summer on record stunted fruits, wheat and other crops. Because of low streams statewide, DOE issued more than 900 curtailment notices to irrigators.
WSDA will take a particularly close look at how the drought impacted farms in the Yakima Valley’s 72,000-acre Roza Irrigation District, where growers received 47 percent of their normal water supplies.
Yakima Valley farmer Dennis Jones last week told a legislative drought task force that he lost thousands of fruit trees that he planted in April. The drought was far worse than the 1977 drought, he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this drought.”
DOE this year spent $5.7 million on drought relief, with 44 percent of that going to increase water supplies for agriculture, the agency’s water resources manager, Tom Loranger, said. The department spent $1.5 million to help Yakima Valley farmers purchase water.
The DOE still has $10.3 million that the Legislature appropriated in case the drought extends into 2016.
Fall rain has eased drought conditions in Western Washington. Most of Eastern Washington remains in “extreme drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. DOE says it’s planning now for a second drought year.