A few weeks ago, I wrote about how climate change is predicted to impact agriculture, according to USDA’s climatologists. The short answer for us is a longer growing season, more rain (with heavier rain events) and hotter summers. The short answer for California and the Southwest is much hotter with more drought conditions.
Those thoughts were on my mind when I read two articles this week about drought conditions in California. Alex Park and Julia Lurie reported in Beyond a reasonable drought: California’s dry spell could be the worst in 500 years annual crop farmers are cutting back production. Fruit production farmers are hoping their trees will survive the year and realize that next year’s crop will be hurt too. California’s ranchers are selling off more of their livestock.
Last minute rains might still save this year’s crops, but the long range view is bleak. Blain Roberts and Ethan J. Kytle’s somber article, The Dust Bowl Returns, noted ironically that it was a Dust Bowl that drove many Midwest farmers to California. However, since the 1930’s, the water supply system that fueled the agricultural boom in California’s Central Valley is being tapped by many more cities. The snow caps that supplied the water are much thinner these years. Soils in part of the valley are laden with salt from too much irrigation over the decades.
Even if the rains return, a farmer noted that the ground has already been sinking as the aquifers have been collapsing from the rapid water withdrawal. That aquifer capacity will not return. The authors note that “Our behavior here in the valley feels untenable and self-destructive, and for much of it, we are to blame. But we also find support among an enthusiastic group of enablers: tens of millions of American shoppers who devour the lettuce and raisins, carrots and tomatoes, almonds and pistachios in our fields.”
No doubt, wealthy Americans won’t do without. With some of the largest population centers here in the Mid-Atlantic, there is the possibility that our region could source much of our food. Our climate can produce most of the same crops (sorry, no oranges). We have more rainfall. There are still millions of acres of farmland and our region used to feed itself. As previously reported, if we were able to tap just 10% of the $26 Billion Northern Virginia/Washington, DC/Baltimore food budget, we could increase the local economy substantially and provide fresh local food.
If we are not successful, more of our food will be imported. It is time to find our own “enthusiastic group of enablers”!