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New study — Climate change threatens major crops in California

California is a global leader in the agricultural sector and produces over 400 different types of commodities. The state produces over one-third of the countries vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts.

Irrigated crops account for close to 90 percent of the harvest each year. The total value of the state’s fruits and nuts in 2015 was $18.1 billion, nearly 67 percent of the country’s total value, according to a report issued by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The report shows that California also produces between 80 and 95 percent of country’s apricots, grapes, lemons, mandarins, nectarines, plums, and strawberries, and over half of the country’s avocados and raspberries.

Top 20 Commodities for 2013-2015

Top 20 Commodities for 2013-2015
California Department of Food and Agriculure

However, a new study published on Tuesday in the journal Agronomy, warns that by the end of the century California’s climate will no longer be able to support the state’s major crops, including orchards.

The study, led by researchers from the University of California Merced and Davis also leaves us with a dire prediction — the increased rate and scale of climate change is “beyond the realm of experience” for the agricultural community, and unless farmers take urgent measures, the consequences could threaten national food security.

Boat docks sit empty on dry land  as Folsom Lake reservoir near Sacramento stands at only 18 percent...

Boat docks sit empty on dry land, as Folsom Lake reservoir near Sacramento stands at only 18 percent capacity, as the severe drought continues in California on September 17, 2015
Mark Ralston, AFP

Key finding in the study
The researchers looked at both past and potential future impacts of climate change on temperature, snowpack and extreme events like drought, heatwaves, and flooding, as well as the consequent impacts on crop yields, chill hours, pests and diseases and agricultural vulnerability to climate risks.

The study found that staple crops, such as wheat and corn would be moderately affected, while fruit crops would be severely affected by climate change. A key finding warns that by the middle of this century, over half of the Central Valley of California is projected to be “no longer suitable for growing crops like apricots, peaches, plums, and walnuts.”

By the end of this century, over 90 percent of the Central Valley will be unsuitable for agriculture. “One under-appreciated aspect of California’s climate is how important our temperature envelope is to California’s agricultural sector. The right temperatures at the right times are absolutely crucial,” said Faith Kearns, a scientist with the California Institute for Water Resources who was part of the team.

“For example, warm weather in January and February can reduce almond yields, but warm summers can reduce peach yields. So, there really is no-one-size-fits-all adaptation approach.”

“There is a clear need and urgency for adaptation research to make California agriculture resilient to future climate risks,” said Tapan Pathak, a scientist and climate adaptation extension specialist at the University of California, Merced, who was the lead author. “In that localized research, he said, “priority should be given to crops and commodities that are most vulnerable to climate impacts.”

As the report concludes: “California agriculture is very diverse and since each crop responds to climate differently, climate adaptation research should be locally focused along with effective stakeholder engagement and systematic outreach efforts for more effective adoption and implementation.”

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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