To feed the nation, California farmers must adapt to a warming climate, study says

Brianna Calix, The Fresno Bee on

Published in Business News

FRESNO, Calif. -- Heat waves, droughts and floods are climate trends that will force California farmers to change some practices -- including what they grow -- to continue producing yields that historically have fed people nationwide, a new study by the University of California says.

Researchers reviewed 89 studies on California climate trends and impacts on the state's diverse agriculture industry to predict how the industry must adjust through the end of the 21st century.

"Understanding climate change and how it is impacting agriculture can help us develop relevant adaptation strategies and enhance agricultural resilience to climate risks," said Tapan Pathak, the lead author on the paper, which was published in Agronomy.

About half the fruit and nuts consumed by people in the U.S. are grown in California, including almonds, pistachios, walnuts, grapes, citrus, kiwi, and more. Yet the state makes up 1.2 percent of the nation's farmland, some of which produces crops grown nowhere else in the country. Agriculture in this state is a $50 billion industry.

And in Fresno County, agriculture was a $6 billion industry, according to 2016 numbers, the latest available. Almonds and grapes are the top commodities, accounting for nearly 400,000 acres of land.

Make no mistake, Pathak said, the climate directly impacts crops, and farmers know it.

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"The agricultural community recognizes the changes we are experiencing and impacts we may face," he said. "It is important to engage agricultural stakeholders in climate adaptation discussions, understanding their needs, what they may already be doing to adapt, and any barriers to climate change adaptations."

Warming temperatures will make it difficult for most of the Central Valley to grow crops such as apricots, kiwis, peaches, nectarines, plums and walnuts. By the end of the century, only 23-46 percent of the Valley will be suitable for those crops, the study found.

This is caused by the drop in winter chill hours that many fruit and nut trees require.

Wine grape yields throughout the state are predicted to decrease by 10 percent by the end of the century as well from higher nighttime temperatures.


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