Conundrums shaking up the food department 

Stand by for your grocery bill to climb even more

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If you have any chocolate eggs left over from Easter, you'd better hang on to them. Hard times could be ahead for much of our world chocolate supply, along with other key food commodities we count on. So get ready to start counting out more of your hard-earned cash at the grocery till, or maybe even heading home empty-handed without some of your favourites.

All indicators point to food prices going up faster than the rate of inflation this year, with meat, fish and seafood, vegetables and restaurant food all increasing up to five per cent. Last year Canadians paid about 2.8 per cent more for our groceries, according to the University of Guelph's Food Institute. This year's overall prediction is for another 2.4 per cent increase, although it could be even higher.

Meat costs are up more than 12 per cent this year over 2013's prices, with bacon up a whopping 25 per cent due to an illness that hit young piglets hard.

If that's all a bit hard to swallow, go get yourself a big chunk of chocolate for a little comfort, before the price goes up.

CHOCOLATE CRUNCH

Commodity traders and suppliers are warning that we are going to see a global shortfall of cocoa by 2020, reports The Guardian.

The Ivory Coast, the world's biggest cocoa producer, has seen farmers receiving 30 per cent more income — a good thing — since the government brought in reforms, including price fixing. Those increases will eventually be passed on to consumers. Likewise, price increases for us chocoholics will start trickling in from impacts like inconsistent rainfall from climate change in the African region coupled with changes in Indonesia, where an attempt to grow disease-resistant seedlings has failed, and crops are being plagued by disease, old age and the coca pod borer.

Doesn't help that consumption for chocolate is up worldwide, especially in China, where the sale of all things chocolate has more than doubled during the last 10 years. But don't blame them for shortages. The U.S. is still the No. 1 chocoholic nation, eating up more than US$17 billion worth of chocolate in 2013, about seven times as much as they ate in China.

KOOKY COFFEE SUPPLIES

Coffee plantations are under fire too these days, with all kinds of unwanted changes from our changing climate.

National Geographic reports that for the past six years a fungus called rust (roya in Spanish) has destroyed so many coffee trees throughout Central America that they could lose up to 40 per cent of their production. The International Coffee Organization estimates that up to 50 per cent of premium coffee crops were impacted by rust in 2013.

The rust has been exacerbated by more rainfall and higher temperatures. The brown-coloured fungus, which coats the leaves, preventing sunlight from getting to the plant for photosynthesis, is usually confined to lower elevations, where it's warmer. But with temperatures rising, it's now making its way further and further up into plantations that were once rust-free.

Increasing numbers of pests like the coffee borer — a beetle that does exactly as its name suggests, boring into the coffee berries before they're dried and shipped — are also spreading in coffee growing areas.

To top things off, the impacts of extreme or unpredictable weather are a scourge. Coffee needs a dry season to flower, something that's becoming less and less predictable in certain regions, so don't be surprised if your favourite brew supply gets pricier and less and less predictable as well.

CRISPY CALIFORNIA

So you think your lettuce, grapes, tomatoes and almonds from the U.S. are expensive now? Just wait...

California produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables and nearly a quarter of its milk and cream. Across the U.S. and here in B.C. we consumers regularly buy crops grown almost entirely in California, including tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, almonds, walnuts, grapes, olives and figs.

Last week California governor Jerry Brown announced the first mandatory water rationing in the state's history while standing on dried grass in the Sierra Nevada mountains — which should have been covered by five feet of snow. The law will require cities and towns to reduce water consumption by 25 per cent.

In the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, farmers in the Tulare Basin are now paying $17,000 apiece to drill new wells deeper and deeper than their old ones — and the wait list is a year long.

California is still in the throes of a deep drought. 2013 was the driest year in the state's history. While 2014 was somewhat better, the state's main water reservoirs have been drawn down by 60 per cent — and drought conditions are expected to continue through 2015.

A drought impact study done last year by the University of California, Davis Center for Watershed Sciences describes the current water crisis California is facing as "the greatest water loss California has ever seen." One lead author called the whole thing "a slow-moving train wreck."

A pamphlet from our own Provincial Health Services Authority pointing out the impacts of climate change on our food supply explains how B.C. imports 45 per cent of its food, and that a whopping 70 per cent of our vegetables and 60 per cent of our fruit comes from the U.S., the bulk of it from California.

While Californian farmers are weathering it for now, they're doing so by drawing on groundwater supplies — ergo the deeper wells described above — which aren't being replenished.

The UC Davis report says that in 2014 alone direct costs due to the drought cost agriculture $1.5 billion (that's revenue losses of $1 billion and pumping costs of $0.5 billion).

In the Central Valley, Central Coast and Southern California last year, 428,000 acres, or five per cent of agricultural cropland went out of production because of the drought.

Maybe you want to start planting your patio pots and little garden patch today.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance journalist who figures if she eats 10 per cent less she'll still come out on top.

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