Thanks in part to climate change, vegetable prices have soared in the U.S.

A cluster of red Roma tomatoes, shriveled and rotten, hang on the vine, with a farmer looking on from above.
Tomatoes for processing damaged by heat and drought hang on vines in a field belonging to farmer Aaron Barcellos in Los Banos, Calif., in September. (Nathan Frandino/Reuters)

Vegetable prices in the United States were up nearly 40% in November over the previous month, according to new figures from the Labor Department, and climate change is one of the reasons why.

In California, an ongoing drought that studies have shown has been been exacerbated by climate change, has led to $3 billion worth of agriculture losses in a state that grows much of the nation's food. The megadrought, which covers much of the American West, has forced cuts in the amount of water that states like California and Arizona receive from the Colorado River.

That has left tomatoes to wither on the vine, and lettuce to shrivel.

“There’s just not enough water to grow everything that we normally grow,” Don Cameron, president of the State Board of Food and Agriculture, told the Times of San Diego.

Thanks to a significantly diminished snowpack in 2022, following the driest January and February in recorded history in the state, California's Central Valley has also struggled to produce its usual output of fruits and vegetables.

Making matters even worse, and more expensive for consumers, lettuce production in the Salinas Valley has fallen further, thanks to an outbreak of the impatiens necrotic spot virus, which spreads from plant to plant and can decimate entire greenhouses.

“In October, most of the nation’s lettuce comes from the Salinas Valley, and they are having very low production because the virus affected their crop,” Bruce Babcock, an agricultural economist at the University of California Riverside, told NBC Bay Area. “A case of romaine is $75 now, and last January, it was $25, so that's almost a tripling of prices at the wholesale level.”

An unripe orange, surrounded by several rotten brown oranges.
Oranges lie on the ground in a grove in Arcadia, Fla., in October after Hurricane Ian. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The long-term climate change trend in California, however, is causing the state's government to take action. In August, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an $8 billion plan aimed at increasing the state's water supply and "adapting to a hotter, drier future."

"We are experiencing extreme, sustained drought conditions in California and across the American West caused by hotter, drier weather," a policy outline released by the governor's office stated. "Our warming climate means that a greater share of the rain and snow fall we receive will be absorbed by dry soils, consumed by thirsty plants, and evaporated into the air. This leaves less water to meet our needs."

The negative farming impacts in California from climate change are much the same story in Arizona, which provides more than 9% of the country's leafy greens during the winter months, Bloomberg reported. The combination of the drought and Colorado River water cuts have severely affected the growing season, and more cuts are coming in the new year. In August, the federal government announced that water deliveries to Arizona would be reduced by another 20%, starting in January of next year.

"Prolonged drought is one of the most profound issues facing the U.S. today," Tommy Beaudreau, assistant secretary of the interior, said in announcing the cuts.

In Florida, the top supplier of fruits and vegetables in the U.S. during autumn and winter, Hurricane Ian caused up to $1.9 billion in damages to the state's agricultural industry, hitting orange and tomato crops particularly hard.

Studies have shown that Ian was wetter and more intense as a consequence of climate change.