SACRAMENTO (CN) – As its vital snowpack shrinks and droughts intensify, California’s giant $50 billion agricultural industry is at a crossroads: how to keep feeding the nation while adapting to the reality of climate change.
In a study released Monday, University of California researchers predict major damage to many of California’s over 400 different crops due to climate change, and outline ways for the state and farmers to brace for future climate challenges.
According to the report, California’s farming industry is “highly sensitive to climate change” and crop losses could have a ripple effect on the country’s food supply and economy.
“Impact on agricultural production due to climate change would not only translate into national food security issues but also economic impacts that could disrupt state and national commodity systems,” the report published in Agronomy Journal states. “While California farmers and ranchers have always been affected by the natural variability of weather from year to year, the increased rate and scale of climate change is beyond the realm of experience for the agricultural community.”
The report, titled “Climate Change Trends and Impacts on California Agriculture,” says researchers and farmers need to create new heat-tolerant fruit and nut varieties and get creative with water usage and storage.
Despite California’s stringent climate change policies, the study says the Golden State is certain to face heat waves, drought and flooding caused by climate change over the next several decades. The extreme weather will affect the length of growing seasons, water availability and spur the growth of invasive pests.
Lucrative tree crops will bear the brunt of the damage caused by warming temperatures, the authors predict.
Crops like walnuts, peaches, almonds and pecans require a certain number of “chilling hours” in the winter to flower and produce new yields. According to the study, the hours of needed cold have steadily decreased since 1950 and some trees in California’s farming regions will no longer produce crops by the end of the 21st century. The report says Salinas and San Joaquin valleys are two of the state’s most vulnerable regions.
Peter Gleick, founder of the Pacific Institute and one the country’s foremost water experts, applauded the study sponsored by the University of California Office of the President.
“This may be the most important article on this subject I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen them all,” Gleick tweeted.
While the report predicts crop yields for alfalfa, wine grapes, tomatoes and rice won’t dramatically change because of higher temperatures, it forecasts significant losses for avocados, walnuts and sunflowers.
Along with producing more resilient crop varieties, the authors suggest that the state increase water storage in its reservoirs and ramp up wastewater recycling programs. Water agencies should update leaky pipelines and canals, and farmers need to install more efficient irrigation systems.
The authors are from the University of California, Merced, UC Davis and the California Institute for Water Resources and they declared no conflict of interest. Findings are based on recent state agency reports and studies from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The 27-page study uses a variety of climate models and cites 89 references.
California could also ward against global warming by limiting its oil production, according to a separate study published Tuesday by the Stockholm Environment Institute.
The report concludes California’s ambitious emissions and clean energy policies enacted under Gov. Jerry Brown don’t go far enough to prevent worldwide catastrophe. If it’s serious about cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the nation’s most populous state should slash oil production.
“We find that restricting California oil production would likely decrease global greenhouse gas emissions by an amount similar to other key policies in the state’s recently adopted climate scoping plan,” the report, titled “How Limiting Oil Production Could Help California Meet its Climate Goals,” states.
California is a major crude oil producer, ranking third behind Texas and North Dakota. The study says restricting California’s oil production would cause a small increase in oil prices but simultaneously lead to less worldwide consumption.
The state could reduce oil production by freezing new oil well permits, restricting production in highly polluted counties and increasing taxes on oil companies.