Sushi prices nationwide could rise dramatically in the coming months, as rice production in drought-ravaged California is expected to fall by 25% this year.
According to Politico, California’s 2,500 rice growers planted just 420,000 acres of the high-quality rice used in sushi this year–significantly less than usual–due to strict water allocation in the state. California’s Sacramento Valley produces most of the sushi rice in America, and also exports a large amount of rice to other countries.
The U.S. Drought Monitor says that 58% of California, including all of the farm-rich Central Valley, is experiencing “exceptional drought,” the most severe level of water shortage possible. While California works on groundwater regulations and a proposed $7.5 billion water bond to provide relief to the state’s farmers, it is already too late to salvage rice production this year.
California Restaurant Association spokeswoman Angie Pappas told Politico that sushi restaurants will undoubtedly feel a price squeeze due to the reduced production.
“There’s only a harvest once a year and the majority of [sushi rice] comes from California,” Pappas said. “Everyone’s still in a wait-and-see mode to see how much the prices go up, but then you’re going to definitely see some price-tweaking.”
According to the report, not all rice producers will be impacted by the drought; in fact, rice production nationwide is expected to increase 21 percent, according to the Department of Agriculture. Still, Japanese importers, and sushi restaurants in general, prefer medium-grain rice grown in California to the long-grain varieties grown in southern states like Arkansas and Louisiana.
Andrea Lee, a spokeswoman for Charlotte, N.C.-based sushi chef training company Hissho Sushi, told Politico the company is “already factoring in price increases” because of the drought.