News from the Farm | February 25, 2013

The California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) had a big gathering at U.C. Davis recently and asked us how we think climate change has affected Full Belly Farm.  Here’s how we answered:

At Full Belly, our crop mix is very diverse – we sell fruits, nuts, vegetables and herbs pretty much every month of the year. As a result, we think and talk about weather continuously. It probably makes us a little boring! During the winter season we hope for rain because it means that we don’t have to irrigate and there will be plentiful water in the summer.  In late February, when the almonds bloom, we are anxious in case bad weather makes it impossible for the insects to pollinate the almond flowers. Without their work we can have a complete almond crop failure. 

In the spring, we watch the weather because we have suffered late freezing temperatures a few times in the past that wiped out the tiny fruitlets on almost all of our vines and fruit trees.  Another spring activity that is dependent on weather is planting our tomato seedlings – tomatoes are one of our most important crops and our goal is to get them into the ground by March 20, which only happens when the weather permits.  After planting the tiny tomatoes we cover them to protect them from frost and if the temperature dips too low, we jump out of bed to start frost protection measures.  

In the summer, if the temperature gets crazy hot, our tomatoes drop their flowers and our corn doesn’t pollinate.  On the other hand, if the temperatures are too cool, nothing ripens, and we find that all of our plantings converge to create what we call a “train wreck” where everything is ripe at the same time.

The scientists point out that weather is short-term and climate is long-term, but it’s the weather changing over time that adds up to climate change and it does seem  that the weather is becoming more hostile to agriculture around the world. With one of the worst dry spells in American history still upon us in 56% of the country, many regions are going into the spring with reservoirs and ground water levels starting out the spring season on empty.

Of even more concern is that fact that erratic climate is just one of many challenges facing agriculture. Water quality and availability may be more and more compromised in future. It may be that Californians will not choose to maintain the critical research and education infrastructure to support agriculture. And as our populations grows, many of the pressures on food production are likely to become even more extreme. 

So it appears that agriculture is facing a set of complex, interconnected challenges with climate change at the center. It is very hard to predict how the climate will change, but that unpredictability is true of many of the challenges we face and is not an excuse for denial or despair. Because we can’t completely know what the future will bring, either in terms of climate but also in terms of these other issues, we must continue to build agricultural systems that will be both resilient and climate friendly, keeping in mind that like the challenges, the solutions are likely to be interconnected.

We have the opportunity to make a difference and address these challenges using a tool box filled with agronomic, social and political tools. People in our communities and all over the world rely on California agriculture for sustenance.  It’s our responsibility to work on solutions to these multiple converging challenges facing agriculture. The future of our food supply hangs in the balance!

— Judith Redmond