November 29, 2021

Western Drought Reveals Need for Stronger Farm Protections, Agriculture Secretary Says

A drought gripping the Western U.S. shows the need for stronger protections for farmers navigating growing climate-related risks, U.S. Agriculture Secretary

Tom Vilsack

said.

Since taking leadership of the USDA earlier this year, Mr. Vilsack has urged lawmakers to redesign farm support systems and disaster programs to help farmers cope with harsher and longer-lasting weather calamities, he said. The economic scars left by droughts and other disasters can linger for years, Mr. Vilsack said, rippling beyond farms, ranches and orchards into other sectors of the economy.

“Many of these areas have embraced a 50- to 100-year event in the last five to 10 years,” said Mr. Vilsack, speaking at the WSJ Global Food Forum on Thursday.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the drought in the Western U.S. showed the urgency of redesigning agricultural support systems in the face of climate change, at the WSJ Global Food Forum.

Farmers, ranchers and other food producers in Western states face another summer of dry conditions, with drought afflicting more than 90% of the American West, up from 43% a year ago, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Reservoirs are being drawn down, and some farmers are letting fields go fallow or searching for alternative water supplies.

The drought now battering U.S. agricultural producers is on pace to be one of the most severe to hit the southwestern U.S., according to federal data. The last severe drought, from 2014-2015, cost California agricultural operations about $5 billion and led to about 20,000 lost jobs, according to University of California Davis estimates.

Meteorologists have said that rising global temperatures and shifting storm patterns are leading to more frequent and deeper dry periods, and giving the land less time to reclaim moisture before the next drought sets in.

Juan Luciano,

chief executive of agricultural trader and processor

Archer Daniels Midland Co.

, said dry spells are a familiar risk to farmers and agribusinesses. While the current U.S. drought has helped to boost crop prices at a time of already strong demand, he said, this year’s grain harvest still could be strong.

“We still have the potential to have a good crop,” Mr. Luciano said, speaking Thursday at the Journal event. “We still have the potential to maybe have a less than ideal crop.”

The U.S. government last year sent a record $46 billion in direct payments to farmers to help cushion the blow from the coronavirus pandemic and international trade disputes.

“Our systems really aren’t designed for the long-term drought situation that we’re looking at in California, Utah and Arizona,” Mr. Vilsack said, adding that those states are the driest they have ever been, while Nevada is in its second-driest period.

In response, some California farmers are fallowing fields typically used for growing annual crops such as tomatoes and melons to divert scarce water supplies to permanent crops in orchards and vineyards, which require longer-term investments.

Shane Grant,

co-CEO of

Danone SA,

DANOY 1.31%

which makes products including Oikos Greek yogurt and Silk almond milk, said at the Journal event that water is a focus for Danone, which he said buys almonds from water-stressed parts of California.

“We’re working with partners to be part of the solution,” Mr. Grant said.

The effects of drought are reaching others, from consumers to investors. Anne Simpson, a managing investment director at California Public Employees’ Retirement System, said at the Journal event that the nation’s largest public pension fund is monitoring the drought’s impact. Ms. Simpson said she sees a role for Calpers in crafting public policy related to water and other topics via a seat on a California climate-change commission. She said the fund has made related investments, including in water storage.

Melissa Ho,

a senior vice president focused on water and food at the World Wildlife Fund, said she hopes that over time consumers will factor water usage into decisions about what foods they eat.

“The outlook is not great, but we have choices to make about how we use the water we do have,” said Ms. Ho, speaking at the Journal event.

Write to Jesse Newman at jesse.newman@wsj.com and Jacob Bunge at jacob.bunge@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Related Posts

Elon Musk Needs to Sell Millions of More Tesla Shares to Meet 10% Pledge

November 12, 2021

November 12, 2021

Elon Musk’s sale of roughly $5 billion in Tesla Inc. shares in recent days is likely just the start of...

Spotify Eyes Top Podcaster Alexandra Cooper, ‘Call Her Daddy’ Show for $20 Million

June 11, 2021

June 11, 2021

Alexandra Cooper’s ‘Call Her Daddy’ was the fifth-most-popular podcast globally on Spotify last year. Photo: Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images for Gotham...

Lordstown Motors Executives Resign Amid Inaccurate Preorder Disclosures

June 14, 2021

June 14, 2021

Lordstown Motors Corp. RIDE -17.56% said its chief executive and top financial leader have resigned, decisions that come amid a...

Some Companies Are Taking Longer to Pay Suppliers Despite Recovery

June 7, 2021

June 7, 2021

Last spring, when the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. economy, many companies asked their suppliers for more time to pay...

CEOs Welcome! U.K. Says Some Foreign Businesspeople Can Leave Quarantine

June 29, 2021

June 29, 2021

LONDON—The U.K. will allow foreign senior executives to leave a 10-day quarantine required of overseas travelers, so long as they...

Bill Ackman Makes His Case for Music

June 23, 2021

June 23, 2021

Hedge-fund billionaire William Ackman says music comes just under food and water in the hierarchy of needs, but music is...

Google, Facebook, Amazon Among Those Set to Fight House Big Tech Antitrust Package

June 24, 2021

June 24, 2021

The House Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to approve the final piece of its six-part package, the “Ending Platform Monopolies...

Microsoft Discloses New Customer Hack Linked to SolarWinds Cyberattackers

June 26, 2021

June 26, 2021

Microsoft Corp. said hackers, linked by U.S. authorities to Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, installed malicious information-stealing software on one of...

China Nuclear Plant Under Scrutiny Was Built to Showcase Nation’s Prowess

June 15, 2021

June 15, 2021

China’s Taishan nuclear power plant, under scrutiny for safety concerns after reports of a gas buildup, is a project meant...

BHP to Sell Controlling Stake in Two Coal Mines for Up to $1.35 Billion

November 8, 2021

November 8, 2021

ADELAIDE, Australia— BHP Group Ltd. said it would sell its controlling interest in two metallurgical coal mines to Stanmore Resources...

Biden Expected to Propose $6 Trillion Budget

May 27, 2021

May 27, 2021

WASHINGTON—President Biden is expected to propose a $6 trillion budget on Friday that would lay the foundation for his plans...

Entry-Level Lawyers Are Now Making $200,000 a Year

June 12, 2021

June 12, 2021

Salaries for junior lawyers are rising above $200,000 at many top law firms for the first time, following a year...

Next-Generation GPS Firm NextNav Nears SPAC Deal to Go Public

June 10, 2021

June 10, 2021

NextNav Holdings LLC is nearing a combination with a special-purpose acquisition company that would take the next-generation GPS firm public...

Inflation Rate Climb Adds Impetus to Fed Policy Shift

June 10, 2021

June 10, 2021

WASHINGTON—The recent inflation surge gives Federal Reserve officials further reason to begin discussing an eventual wind-down of their pandemic-driven easy-money...

What Working From Home Taught Us About Our Office Setups

June 6, 2021

June 6, 2021

Gabe Marans, an executive managing director at the real-estate company Savills, is back in his office on Park Avenue in...