Cultivating Climate Resilience in Farming

Posted on Monday, August 12th, 2019 by Renata Brillinger

Hot off the presses, CalCAN just released a new publication reviewing and summarizing the impacts of climate change on California’s farms and ranches, complete with farmer profiles and resources to ensure they thrive in the face of climate change.

Climate change is already having very real impacts on California’s agricultural productivity and the livelihoods of our farmers and ranchers. A growing body of research is pointing to significantly tougher challenges ahead for farmers, our rural communities and our food security, unless we do more to mitigate climate change and improve resilience to its impacts.

Climate change is causing a combination of interrelated shifts in temperature, water availability, unpredictable and extreme weather events, and new pest and disease patterns. It is expected that some areas of the state will no longer support the production of certain crops. For example, Napa’s wine grape production could be halved by 2040 and Central Valley acreage suitable for popular varieties of walnuts and some stone fruits is predicted to be one-half or one-quarter of its present size by 2050. Threats to the viability of the state’s farms and ranches also threaten our rural communities, especially in the Central Valley. As evidence, we can look to California’s recent drought (2013-2016), when the state’s agricultural economy lost an estimated $1.84 billion and 21,000 jobs, with the biggest financial impact on Central Valley rural communities.

California agriculture is the most productive and diverse agricultural economy in the nation and the leading supplier of the country’s fruits, vegetables, nuts, and dairy products. Climate change may increase food costs, further exacerbating issues of inequitable food access in California. Additionally, the nutritional quality of food is expected to decline when grown in a climate higher in carbon dioxide. Issues of food security and nutrition affect all Californians, urban and rural alike.

In our publication “Cultivating Climate Resilience in Farming,” we provide a science-based review of some of the most significant impacts of climate change on California agriculture and what is predicted in the coming decades. We also provide stories of California farmers and ranchers coping with climate impacts, some strategies they are using, and recommendations for needed resources and tools to keep California producers viable and thriving in the face of the sobering challenges ahead.

Today, the California legislature returns from its summer recess on the heels of yet more record-breaking heat in the interior of the state. In June, a wildfire near Guinda threatened a number of organic farms in the Capay Valley and kicked off California’s wildfire season earlier than ever. As legislators return to the Capitol to make a final push on hundreds of bills, among them is AB 409, authored by Assemblymember Límon and sponsored by CalCAN. The bill will establish a competitive grant program to fund the collaborative development of farmer-centered climate adaptation decision-support tools, the piloting of those tools in three regions of the state, and trainings on climate risk management. This bill represents a modest and necessary step in supporting California agriculture into the future.

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