The impact the 2005 drought will have on Pacific Northwest foreign markets is just a guess at this point, say economic experts. But judging by past experiences, the costs to the agricultural industry may exceed 2001's $1 billion in losses.
What the exact cost to the state's agricultural export market will mean to Washington farmers, who are already hampered by trade and export restrictions in many Pacific Rim markets, at this point is only a guess.
"From an exporting perspective, if there is a significant drought and production decreases result in higher prices, Pacific Northwest agriculture will be less competitive in the international market," said Dr. Thomas I. Wahl, director of Washington State University's IMPACT Center.
Wahl, a professor at the WSU's school of economic science, said if Washington farmers are unable to meet the needs of international consumers in the short term, "...they run the risk of losing markets in the long run."
"The negative impact on our export markets could result in international consumers seeking alternative sources for their agricultural imports over the long haul," Wahl said.
"It really depends on how extensive the drought really is," Wahl said.
"If it is moderate, loss in production won't be too severe, but if the drought reaches the magnitude some believe, the impact on our agriculture exports will have a devastating effect on the market," he said.
Wahl said where farmers will be hardest hit is in the areas of wheat and fruit production. "Losing any of our share of those markets will be tough," he said.
"We run the risk of losing our market share to China," he said.
Like many economic watchers, Wahl finds himself looking to the skies for saving rain.
Wahl said the spring rainfall will determine if oversea markets will be able to stay healthy.
A lot depends on the fruit trees receiving enough water in a timely fashion in order to produce quantity and quality products to compete on the international market, he said.
"There are a lot of factors which are can still change, however," he said.
"It may be a bit early to preach gloom and doom," he added.
"We just have to wait and see," Wahl said.