Drought in the Western United States
The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) categorizes drought in a region according to soil moisture, streamflow, and precipitation levels. Regional designations can vary and are primarily based on historical weather patterns. Drought can adversely affect many aspects of the U.S. agricultural sector. In regions that rely on rainfall for agricultural production, drought can diminish crop and livestock outputs and may severely affect farm profitability. Drought also reduces the quantity of snowpack and streamflow available for diversions to irrigated agricultural land. These impacts can reverberate throughout the local, regional, and national economies. Locally, droughts can reduce farm income and negatively impact food processing and agricultural service sectors, while food prices may increase at the regional and the national levels.
As of July 11, 2022, drought conditions were most severe in the States of California, Texas, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. According to USDM, on July 11, 2022, more than 32 percent of land in western states was classified as experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. Data reported by USDM demonstrate the incidence of drought in the western United States during the summer of 2021 exceeded all past droughts in the region since 2000. Drought conditions in the western United States gradually subsided in the latter months of 2021 and began intensifying again during the first half of 2022.
Drought conditions in the western United States have important implications for the agricultural sector. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), as of July 11, 2022, approximately 12 percent of alfalfa hay acreage in the United States was experiencing severe or exceptional drought conditions. NDMC also indicates that the percentage of alfalfa hay acreage affected by drought during the summer of 2021 was the largest in the past decade. The historically severe drought conditions in the western United States during the summer of 2021 were significant for the broader agricultural sector. For example, alfalfa hay is an important input for livestock and dairy operations and much of its production concentrates in the western U.S. Drought conditions affecting alfalfa hay acreage have the potential to reduce yields, which may influence feed and consumer prices.
Please visit the National Integrated Drought Information System's Agriculture Sector webpage for a map of the latest U.S. areas experiencing drought and the agricultural activity in those areas.
USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) Drought-Related Resources
- Commodity Outlook Reports contain information on the impacts of recent drought on various commodities.
- Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: August 2022 (Drought discussion: Pages 4 and 5)
- Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: July 2022 (Drought discussion: Page 30)
- Rice Outlook: August 2022 (Drought discussion: Pages 5 and 10)
- Wheat Outlook: August 2022 (Drought discussion: Pages 2 and 4)
- Vegetables and Pulses Outlook: April 2022 (Drought discussion: Pages 16 and 18)
- State Fact Sheets include data by State relating to top agricultural commodities, exports, and counties.
- The ERS Food Price Outlook provides monthly forecasts for retail food price inflation.
- Irrigation Organizations: Drought Planning and Response
- Trends in U.S. Irrigated Agriculture: Increasing Resilience Under Water Supply Scarcity
- Irrigation Organizations: Water Storage and Delivery Infrastructure
- Tracking the U.S. Domestic Food Supply Chain’s Freshwater Use Over Time
- Development, Adoption, and Management of Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States
- "Some Irrigation Organizations Rely on Formal Drought Plans"
- "Trends in Irrigated Agriculture Reveal Sector’s Ability To Adapt to Evolving Climatic, Resource, and Market Conditions"
- "Irrigation Organizations Use Conveyance Infrastructure To Deliver Water to Irrigated Farms and Ranches"
- "U.S. Food-Related Water Use Varies by Food Category, Supply Chain Stage, and Dietary Pattern"
- "Drought-Tolerant Corn in the United States: Research, Commercialization, and Related Crop Production Practices"
- "Farmers Employ Strategies to Reduce Risk of Drought Damage"
Charts of Note
- Beef cattle producers face higher input costs, with feed prices up 16 percent since 2021
- Most formal drought plans for irrigation organizations specify rules for drought-induced water restrictions
- Large organizations deliver 80 percent of off-farm irrigation water
- Drought dampens production and export prospects for key U.S. wheat classes
- Drought-tolerant corn varieties often planted on non-irrigated fields