California’s Strict Air Quality Rules Help Its Farmers Grow More Food

(CN) – Despite their lack of popularity with farmers in California’s Central Valley, the Golden State’s strict air pollution regulations have increased productivity for their farms and created greater wealth for them, according to research released Monday.

In a study published in the journal Nature Food, researchers from the University of California, Irvine, discovered that reduction in pollution from 1980 to 2015 resulted in an annual increase in production of $600 million.

This image of smog blanketing Bakersfield appeared in a 2015 article about new research from the University of California, Davis.

“A lot of California farmers may not appreciate that air quality standards have had such a benefit on their ability to grow crops,” said co-author Steven Davis, UCI associate professor. “The irony is that by fighting against certain environmental regulations, these folks may be damaging their own earning capacity.”

In addition to their findings, the researchers projected crop yield changes up to 2050, based on various environmental changes. They determined that expected declines in the ozone layer will boost wine grape production by 5%, nectarines by 8% and table grapes by 20%.

While such crops would increase in production, the research team also discovered other crops like almonds would suffer due to higher expected temperatures.

Davis said that this study differs from earlier ones in that it focused on perennials grown in California rather than staple crops like rice, wheat and soy.

“These aren’t the things that are providing the global population with its main source of calories. These are the sweet things in life – fruits, nuts and grapes for wine,” Davis said. “Also, monetarily, some of these crops are a lot more valuable than wheat or corn.”

The study found that ambient ozone, much of which is created by emissions from energy production and transportation, significantly reduces the harvest of crops such as strawberries, peaches, grapes and nectarines.

“If you look at a map of the state, you’ll see an overlap in areas such as the San Joaquin Valley where many perennial crops are grown and which have high levels of ozone pollution,” said lead author Chaopeng Hong, a UCI postdoctoral scholar. “This co-location indicates that there are opportunities to increase the state’s crop production with even a localized reduction in the amount of ambient ozone pollution.”

Davis said with the new information, the Golden State is best suited “to serve as a test bed for different climate change mitigation scenarios.”

“We can really look at the state’s energy and transportation systems and be quantitative about how those things might help or hurt agriculture,” he said. “As we transition away from fossil fuels in favor of solar and wind energy and electric vehicles, there will be big changes in ozone pollution. We can simulate those changes and project the effects on California’s most valuable crops.”

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