Agriculture experts fear that even dryland growers like Nichols could be squeezed out of the wheat crop altogether.
"It might potentially become too dry for some Washington state farmers to grow anything," said Bill Schillinger, director of Washington State University’s dryland research station in Lind, Wash.
The economic costs of the switch underway could be considerable. Crop insurance is expected to cover the bulk of the losses from this year's drought, estimated to run as high as $12 billion. Drought-driven impacts, such as higher food costs and decreased farm incomes, shaved 0.4 percent off the nation's gross domestic product, dropping the growth rate of the key economic indicator to 1.3 percent from 1.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
"Whether manmade or natural, we know the climate is changing," said Nichols. "And we're just kind of rolling with it. If it gets too much drier, we could put in grass for cattle. That wouldn't be as profitable, but down the line we might just have to."
Science journalist Bruce Dorminey, a Forbes.com contributor, is author of "Distant Wanderers: The Search for Planets beyond the Solar System." DailyClimate.org is an independent, foundation-funded news service that covers climate change.
On the web: Bureau of Economic Analysis 2012 GDP revision: www.bea.gov/scb/pdf/2012/10%20October/1012_gdpecon_anchor.pdf
This article originally appeared at The Daily Climate, the climate change news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.