Despite The Drought, California Farms See Record Sales In 2014 : The Salt While the drought has put a strain on California agriculture, its farms actually set a record for total sales — $54 billion — in 2014. How? By pumping more water from their wells.
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Despite The Drought, California Farms See Record Sales In 2014

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Despite The Drought, California Farms See Record Sales In 2014

Despite The Drought, California Farms See Record Sales In 2014

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right, so farmworkers are making less. Some of the farmers who employ them are making more. This is the reality of supply and demand. Farms that actually have access to water in this drought are doing well, really well, breaking all-time sales records. Here's NPR's Dan Charles.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: James McFarlane grows almonds and citrus in the heart of California's Central Valley, near Fresno. And he says the drought the last couple of years has been beyond terrible for some people. He knows farmers who had to tear out parts of orchards for lack of water. But when I ask him, has it been a good year or a bad year for you, personally, he has to think about it.

JAMES MCFARLANE: That's a good question. It's been a good year. We're going to make money, and you have to count your blessings and call that a good year.

CHARLES: Because he still has access to water. Some comes from Kings River, via the Fresno Irrigation District. He's also pumping water out of aquifers that lie underneath his orchards.

MCFARLANE: If it weren't for the wells, we couldn't have made it work.

CHARLES: But also there's a lot of demand for his crops. Prices are up. So as long as the water lasts, he's making money. In fact, across California, there are lots of farmers like James McFarlane. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week that in 2014, the year the drought really hit, California's farmers sold $54 billion worth of crops and animal products like milk. That's an all-time record, up 5 percent over the previous year, up 20 percent from the year before that. They've been able to make up for most of the shortfall in rain and snow by tapping into water that's trapped underground. Richard Howitt, an economist at the University of California, Davis says basically, there are two contrasting realities in California agriculture these days.

RICHARD HOWITT: Some people just don't have the underground water. And if you meet these people and they are really in poor shape.

CHARLES: But where there is water...

HOWITT: You have investors pouring money into planting these almond trees at a rate that they've never seen before.

CHARLES: Because if you can grow a crop, it's a great time to be a farmer in California.

HOWITT: You have all-time, all-time record high prices over the whole range of crops.

CHARLES: Of course, this is agriculture, Howitt says. There will be good years and bad years. These prices probably won't last, especially if China stops buying so much of California's nut production. But on the good side, maybe rain and snow will fill the reservoirs again. Dan Charles, NPR News.

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