Drought and heat damage last season cost Washington growers millions, but a full accounting isn’t yet available, according to newly released data.
In a report released Thursday, the state Department of Agriculture estimates that Central Washington apple growers lost at least $85 million, which is less than 5 percent of the state’s $2 billion industry.
Raspberry growers in Western Washington lost $14 million, dryland wheat farmers lost $212 million, and hay growers around Ellensburg lost $11 million.
“This is a glimpse of the types of economic impacts farmers faced,” agriculture department spokesman Hector Castro said. “We’re not done counting yet; we only looked at a handful of commodity groups so far, so it’s a mistake to tally up the economic figures we have at this time.”
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In May, the agency estimated the drought could cost $1.2 billion in lost harvests, including $243 million from Yakima Basin junior irrigators. It’s unclear at this point whether losses will reach that level, and a more detailed accounting is expected later this year.
“We’re hoping it’s not as high as that estimate,” Castro said. “That figure was put out there to say that if nothing is done, here’s the damage the industry is looking at. But people saw it and took action.”
Washington’s agricultural industry makes up about 15 percent of the state’s economy, and the total harvest has been valued at more $10 billion in recent years.
The report is based on commodities where data was already available, a survey of about 450 growers, and a detailed look at the impacts to the Kittitas Reclamation District, which has junior rights and ran out of water the first week of August.
That forced the district’s hay growers to forgo second and third cuttings, ranchers to ship cattle to greener pastures elsewhere, and orchardists to pay to pump water from emergency wells to keep their trees alive.
33,000 of 60,000 number of acres impacted by drought in Kittitas Reclamation District
$11 million price of losses to district’s farmers
The report estimates 33,000 of the district’s 60,000 acres were impacted by drought, for a cost of $11 million. But that comes largely from lost alfalfa and timothy hay; it doesn’t account for the extra costs incurred by apple and pear growers.
District Manager Urban Eberhart said that figure is definitely an underestimation, but he praised the agency’s ongoing effort to calculate the drought’s cost.
“It’s a progress report and I think they are doing the best they can. But they have a lot more to do,” he said. “They left fruit mostly out because they figured that emergency drought wells were used to prevent damage. But it doesn’t account for the cost to keep those running.”
Another challenge will be accounting for the effects that spill over into this year, Eberhart said. Timothy hay fields that were left fallow for the second half of the summer will see reductions in yield, increased weeds, and may need to be re-planted entirely at a significant cost, he said.
About two-thirds of the growers surveyed by the state said they expected to feel negative impacts of the 2015 drought during this year’s growing season.
The losses farmers reported varied widely, as did the scale and type of farming operations. A third of respondents reported losses of more than $50,000.
“It’s still too soon to say what the total economic damage will be,” Castro said. “But even this brief glimpse shows that the damage to farmers is significant, and they anticipate that the harm is going to carry over into (this) year.”