- Associated Press - Sunday, March 9, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The worsening drought in California likely means Alabama consumers will be paying more for everything from almonds to zucchini.

And when you throw in other California-produced commodities such as milk and guacamole, grocery receipts likely will grow.

California produces nearly half the produce, fruits and nuts consumed in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2012, the most current numbers available, the 80,500 farms and ranches in the state produced an economic impact of $44.7 billion. California is the nation’s top agriculture-producing state, according to the USDA.

California is the nation’s Salad Bowl, much like the Midwest is its Bread Basket.

The drought impacting the Golden State’s agricultural areas is expected to be felt in Alabama, and across the nation, said Max Runge, an economist with Auburn University’s School of Agriculture and member of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“You are going to see price increases in produce like broccoli and cauliflower and other produce that California grows a lot of,” he said. “Milk is California’s largest commodity. And they have the largest cattle herd in the nation. Depending on how bad the drought is this year, you could see anywhere from less than 1 percent to a 10 percent increase in some of the commodities California produces.”

The prices likely will increase in summer and late fall, when the crops come in and go to market, Runge said. There won’t be food shortages, he said.

“We enjoy the cheapest, safest and most abundant food supply in world,” he said. “Somebody will pick up the slack, other areas of the country will grow the products that California can’t or won’t be growing.”

That means farmers in Alabama could benefit from the troubles out West, said Mary Johnson, spokeswoman for the Alabama Farmer’s Federation.

“Spring planting is right around the corner, so our producers are now planning what they grow and how much they will grow,” she said. “They can put in more produce if they think the market will be there.

“People in Alabama can use this as an opportunity to use more local sources for their fruits and vegetables. We have a vibrant network of farmer’s markets and stands where you can get produce that is grown right down the road, not all the way across the country.”

Cleve Smitherman of Autauga County describes himself as an “old-fashioned truck farmer.” He has peach orchards and grows produce on land in northern Autauga and southern Chilton County.

“I’m planning on putting in more beans this year, squash and tomatoes, too,” he said. “I’ve been watching what’s going on out there, and I think you will see a bigger demand for local grown stuff, as far as vegetables go.

“We really can’t add more on the fruit side. It takes years to plant an orchard and get the trees to making. It’s easier to adjust with vegetables.”

Just how bad the drought in California is going to be this growing season is still up in the air, said Dave Kranz, spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

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