New Report on Climate Impacts in SoCal Makes Urgent Case for Agricultural Climate Adaptation Tools Bill

Posted on Friday, July 24th, 2020 by Brian Shobe
An avocado orchard in southern California. Climate projections show a substantial reduction in areas that exhibit high yields of avocados, with a potential for up to a 45% reduction in avocado yields statewide by 2060.

A new report from CDFA and the Climate Science Alliance on climate impacts on specialty crops in southern California makes an urgent case for a CalCAN-sponsored bill, AB 1071 (Limón), to fund climate adaptation tools and trainings for farmers.

The report – based on surveys, interviews, and workshops with farmers, researchers, and technical assistance providers in three regions (San Diego County, South San Joaquin Valley, and Imperial Valley/Inland Desert) – describes in moving detail the myriad challenges growers are weathering right now.

“As evidenced by COVID-19, there is a need for additional resources, funding and technical assistance that are equitable and accessible to help farmers adapt in order to maintain production, viability, and income throughout times of emergency and crisis. It has become increasingly clear that producers play a pivotal role, especially during times of crisis, in maintaining community resilience and viability by ensuring that there is fresh food available and accessible for all people… In future years, farmers and communities could be faced with more frequent extreme conditions under a changing climate, and as a result, times of uncertainty and crisis that follow.”

Many of the producer challenges summarized on page 28 of the report would be directly addressed by AB 1071.

Many of the report’s findings align closely with our findings from a dozen adaptation-focused listening sessions we led in 2018, that informed the development of AB 1071. Similar to what we heard, the report notes that producers face a lack of accessible climate data, planning tools, and funding to effectively develop and implement regional and crop-specific climate adaptation strategies. Likewise, many of the report’s recommendations specifically call for the kind of program proposed in AB 1071, like translating larger-scale climate research into agricultural contexts and applications that are more relevant at the farm level.

AB 1071, if signed into law, would directly fulfill these recommendations by creating a competitive grant program at CDFA to do all of the following:

  1. Develop science-based, farm-level agricultural climate change adaptation planning tools for California farmers, similar to the AgroClimate Toolkit and Adaptation Workbook that have been developed for other regions in the US.
  2. Pilot the decision-support tools in three agricultural regions of the state with local farmers, ranchers, technical assistance providers, and agricultural organizations.
  3. Finalize the tools and facilitate trainings for farmers and technical assistance providers on how to use the adaptation tools.

As we wrote about in February, AB 1071 has received unanimous bipartisan support in all of its votes to-date.

In considering this bill, we hope legislators and their staff will take a moment to look at CDFA’s report. Specifically, we hope they read the farmers’ real-life stories of climate impacts and look at the color-coded infographic summarizing research on current and projected climate impacts on some of the region’s and state’s most valuable, nutritious, and iconic crops.

A color-coded infographic of climate impacts to almonds, avocados, and citrus on page 11 of the report.

A few examples worth noting:

  • Avocadoes: climate projections show a substantial reduction in areas that exhibit high yields of avocados, with a potential for up to a 45% reduction in avocado yields statewide by 2060.
  • Strawberries: climate projections show a decrease in strawberry production of 10% by 2050 and 43% by 2070 with greater effects in southern regions of the state.
  • Oranges: climate projections show areas suitable for future orange production have minimal overlap with current orange production, and the majority of these areas have challenging circumstances that limit agricultural opportunities.

As devastating as Covid-19 has been, it is important to remember that we will eventually get through this current pandemic with adherence to science-based guidelines, better treatments, and eventually a vaccine. The impacts of climate change, on the other hand, are projected to get steadily worse until and unless we achieve carbon neutrality and begin drawing down excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Indeed, planting decisions farmers are making this year about the state’s many perennial crops have both short- and long-term implications for the state’s economy, landscape, and food security. As a 2019 Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment Research Brief on Climate Adaptation and Agriculture wrote: …prime agricultural areas of California – as well as similar regions across the United States that are currently favorable to specific perennial crops – may become unfavorable during the lifespan of a single orchard or vineyard. This makes the choice of selecting a cultivar for a particular region more complicated as growers now must face the risk that the best variety for the current climate may be poorly suited for future climates.”

There is a real but preventable risk that planting decisions farmers are making this year and the next for our state’s most valuable and iconic crops (tree nuts, winegrapes, stone fruit, citrus, avocadoes) could be setting them and all of us up for failure; but most farmers have little to no accessible information or training to guide them. Every year that we wait is another year that farmers are forced to make potentially devastating choices for themselves and our state because they don’t have the information they need to make more strategic investments. The legislature can change that. They should pass AB 1071, the Agricultural Climate Adaptation Tools Bill.

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