Exploring Climate Impacts on the Central Valley

Rosie & Ward
Rosie and Ward Burroughs.

Rose Marie Burroughs, along with her husband Ward and three of their children, organically farm in Merced County. Their products are branded under Burroughs Family Farms, and include the ABC’s of organics: almonds, beef, chickens, dairy, eggs…and olive oil, as well as artisan gouda cheese. Rosie and Ward serve as members of CalCAN’s Farmer Advisory Council.

Rosie attended a recent hearing on Central Valley climate adaptation held at UC Merced. We produced this summary of the proceedings.
How will drought, higher temperatures and extreme weather associated with climate change have an impact on our region in the coming decades? And how can we adapt to these challenges?

State Senator Bob Wieckowski (Fremont) and the Senate Environmental Quality Committee brought these questions to a legislative hearing at UC Merced on September 22nd. Farm Bureau member Rosie Burroughs attended and provided public testimony to the Committee, suggesting some ways to help growers adapt to climate change impacts.

We heard from panelists and scientists representing several state agencies and regional authorities. Significant shifts to the water cycle due to changing climate trends could have a sizable impact unless we rethink how we store and manage water, they said. More extreme heat days could have health impacts on outdoor workers and low-income communities. Central Valley agriculture may bear the brunt of the changes unless we have the tools we need to adapt.

Dr. Amrith Gunasekara of the Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) spoke about what his Department is doing to help. Faced with water scarcity, increased pests, and reduced chill hours, growers may need to shift practices and even switch crops, as noted in CDFA’s 2013 Climate Change Consortium report. CDFA’s State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) provides grants for growers to employ more efficient irrigation practices and technologies, and upcoming research will explore ways to reduce the economic losses of climate change in the agriculture sector.

Tapan Pathak, the new Specialist for Climate Adaptation in Agriculture at UC Cooperative Extension, spoke about incorporating climate into long-term decision-making. Extension will be improving the data and information it provides to growers so that they can, for example, choose to switch to crop varieties that are more resilient under higher average temperatures.

Amidst one of the worst fire seasons on record, CAL FIRE representatives noted that “almost everything we’re doing now has a climate adaptation framework to it.” Their efforts are focused on making sure forests are able to provide the multiple public benefits that we all rely on. Still, beetles that survived an abnormally warm winter have been ravaging the state’s tree population, increasing forest die-off and adding to fire risk.

Finally, it was time for public comment. Rosie Burroughs discussed the results of a recent UC Davis study on the carbon footprint of orchard crops (to which CalCAN also contributed). She noted that Merced County growers are currently doing two of the three most important practices the study recommends — chipping orchard waste and using efficient irrigation technology. But there is still the opportunity to reduce synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use. Using compost for fertility can build soil health, increase soil moisture holding capacity — and sequester carbon.

“All life starts in the soil,” Rosie told the Senator, “Agriculture is the number one tool we can use for climate change — but the educational resources need to be available to the growers. We are the stewards of the land and we can make the change happen.”

You can view a full video of the climate change adaptation hearing by clicking here.

 

 

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