While all of us have had to adapt to the erratic weather we’ve been facing recently, farmers have been especially impacted by it in ways that are demanding major changes in the way they grow food. Climate change is already causing alteration to the air, soil, water, and living things involved in agriculture, the effects of which will continue to become more apparent on the Co-op’s shelves. We talked with Assistant Produce Manager Clea Aguera-Arcas about what this means for her department.
Farmers rely on the relative predictability of seasons, but “Climate change has increased the frequency of extreme and unseasonable weather events, making the yearly cycles of pests and weeds out of sync,” Clea told us. In addition, both extreme flooding and extreme drought can lead to soil degradation. “Drought cracks the soil, so that even when you get rain, it runs off instead of being absorbed. Plus the topsoil dries out and blows away, so that farmers need to use extra fertilizer to replenish the fertility of the soil,” which can then cause severe damage to waterways. Too much or ill-timed rain, on the other hand, can interfere with the harvest of crops like citrus. “We had citrus shortages this spring due to farmers not having window in which to safely harvest. If you harvest wet stuff it’s going to rot before you can dry it out.”
Lack of water in California’s Salinas Valley, called by promoters “The Salad Bowl of the World,” is increasing demand for ground water is pulling seawater into the supply, leading farmers to search for plant varieties that are more salt tolerant, in addition to being heat and drought tolerant. Clea says this is changing the way farmers are growing salad greens, “They’re having to find more varieties that grow extremely fast, so that you can quickly get it up to the 1-3 inch range and harvested to take advantage of a much shorter wet cycle.”.
Clea says to look out for a greater variety of leafy greens on our shelves, “Spearheaded spinach, for example, which people are not as familiar with, is just one of the varieties that people have been experimenting with that is more drought and heat resistant.” Other changes may be invisible to the eye but be more apparent to the taste buds, as farmers explore planting one of the many similar varieties of common crops like yellow onions.
While farmers will continue to adapt, there is only so much they can do as the effects of climate change become more severe. The only way to prevent a truly dire scenario is for people across the globe to move quickly to transform our economy away from fossil fuels and conventional agriculture and towards renewable energy and sustainable farming. It is a daunting challenge, but also an inspiring mission that will require creativity, commitment, and, above all, cooperation in the days to come.
Clea photo @2018 Alex Garland/CHS
Date: Monday March 11, 2019
Category: Producer Stories
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