Much has been written about California’s historic drought, where startlingly low rainfall and snowpack have threatened agriculture and will mean eventual rising prices on foods from almonds to avocados. California produces nearly half of the country’s fruits and vegetables. Experts remain uncertain when rising prices will hit consumers, while noting that costs of some foods, like beef, are unlikely to see drought-related changes.
But what about Washington’s drought, officially declared two weeks ago by Governor Inslee? As Inslee noted, rain amounts have been normal but snowpack is so low it’s dropped to just 16 percent of typical levels on mountains. (According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, 11 snow sites in Washington are snow free for the first time—ever.) Because of this, rivers are dwindling. Irrigation districts are restricting water to farmers. The Department of Natural Resources expects more wildfires.
What does this bode for your dinner table?
Michael Butler, Chairman and CEO of Seattle-based Cascadia Capital, an investment bank that works with the agriculture business in California and Washington state, affirms that prices of Washington produce will, like California’s, increase. "While changes may not be drastic this year, big changes are on the horizon," Butler predicts. Market pressures and increasing temperatures will compel Eastern Washington farmers away from growing cherries and pears and toward more lucrative crops like almonds and walnuts.
Thanks to this harvest season's bumper crop of apples, prices of those won't increase. This year.
And—brace yourselves—prices of beer will go up. "There is currently a shortage of hops in the market and with the drought, that shortage will continue to increase," Butler explains. "It takes three gallons of water per day to water a single hop plant; coupled with the shortage of supply and an increased demand from craft brewers, this will ultimately increase the price of beer."