SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — California's drought could bring significant challenges to the state's $45 billion farm industry, as some farmers are already abandoning their crops.
Rice farmer Mike Shannon's paycheck lives and dies by what happens in his rice paddies.
"We're in uncharted waters," he said. "This is the worst I've seen it, and I started farming in 1976."
He farms about 1,000 acres of rice outside of Yuba City. But the state, which controls the water for his fields, says it plans to cut back on water deliveries by 50 percent, and that could drop to zero if the drought worsens.
CALIFORNIA DROUGHT SPECIAL COVERAGE
"Since we don't know if we're going to be able to farm, we've pretty much walked away from it now," he said.
At a time when he should be prepping his fields, Shannon sits idle, but is bills don't.
"I have a harvester payment sitting right over there in the barn, gotta make a payment on that, it just comes out of my pocket if I don't farm," he said.
Insurance will help lessen the blow for Mike, but for others, the drought could be devastating.
Karen Ross is the secretary of the state's food and agriculture department.
"If I don't look panicky, it's because I'm hiding it very well," she said. "It's a very serious situation."
Ross says this drought could hit California farmers harder than the 2009 drought where farmers lost $340 million in revenue and nearly 10,000 farm-related jobs dried just as fast as the ground.
"It's happening in counties and small rural communities that can least afford to lose that seasonal employment," Ross said.
With less food produced here, the demand could rise, and so could the price at the grocery store.
"It's just difficult to sit here today and tell you what the impact will be and when we'll actually feel it, because drought is a slow-moving phenomena," she said.
Shannon says not only will the drought dig into his living, it will prevent him from doing a job he's spent a lifetime learning.
"This is what we do, and to sit there and go what am I going to do all summer?" he said. "That doesn't sound fun either, but no, it's a difficult deal, and this is where we're at."
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