If predictions hold true the state of California will experience the driest January on record this year. There is a mighty high pressure system parked just east of the state that is sending all the rain to some northern verdant place. Predictions are that no measurable precipitation will have fallen the entire month of January, which is typically one of wettest months of the year in the “Sunshine State”. As I Look out my window on this warm January day I wonder what the new norm is and how climate change and agriculture will intersect in the 21st century and beyond.
The plight in California will be felt by farmers, farm workers and consumers alike. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) the state produces more than 400 separate commodities. We produce nearly half of all US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. In 2012 California ranked number one in cash farm receipts producing milk, grapes, almonds, cattle, strawberries, lettuce, walnuts and tomatoes to name just a few at the top. All these are in jeopardy as we go into a potential fourth year of scorching exceptional drought. Scientists believe California is in the midst of the most severe drought in over 1200 years. Not one drop will soak the parched ground within the entire state in January! View a simulated progression of the state’s predicament made possible by the local PBS station KQED by clicking here.
Flash to a recent NY Times article sighting that 2014 was the hottest year since record keeping commenced in 1880! Heat records were repeatedly set in the entire western half of the US and indeed every inhabited continent on the globe. Underscoring the need for action, Michael H. Freilich, director of earth sciences at NASA recently made the sobering statement that….; “Climate change is perhaps the major challenge of our generation.” I would delete word the work “perhaps” and say we should be in emergency mode!
And, agriculture contributes to the problem. According to the EPA agriculture accounted for approximately 9% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. Yes, most of it is from livestock production and manure management systems, think CAFOS, but the impact of agriculture on the environment is expected to increase unless we begin doing things differently, and fast!
Organic Agriculture provides a model for positive change in its core practices. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognize organic practices as a viable and real solution. They specifically state that “Carbon sequestration, lower-input of fossil fuel dependent resources, and use of renewable energy all present opportunities for organic agriculture to lead the way in reducing energy consumption and mitigating the negative effects of energy emissions. Organic agriculture provides management practices that can help farmers adapt to climate change through strengthening agro-ecosystems, diversifying crop and livestock production, and building farmers’ knowledge base to best prevent and confront changes in climate.”
The FAO goes on to underscore the need for genetic diversity in local seed preservation and traditional plant breeding. Their publication, Coping with climate change: the roles of genetic resources for food and agriculture, says “It is vital for the world to build its knowledge of genetic resources for food and agriculture and their characteristics such as resistance to drought or disease. Documentation of locally adapted varieties and breeds of crops and livestock are poorly documented and may be lost before their potential roles in climate change adaptation are recognized.” We obviously need less genetically modified seeds owned by corporations and more heirloom and indigenous seed varieties shared and breed freely.
The Rodale Institute has long underscored the soil’s ability to reverse climate change, when the health of the soil is maintained through organic regenerative agriculture. Their white paper, entitled Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming, states that “We could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices. They go on to posit that “If management of all current cropland shifted to reflect the regenerative models, more than 40% of annual emissions could potentially be captured. If, at the same time, all global pasture was managed to a regenerative model, an additional 71% could be sequestered. Essentially, passing the 100% mark means a drawing down of excess greenhouse gases, resulting in the reversal of the greenhouse effect!
It is clear to me and many experts around the globe that climate change is hotly upon us. It’s also clear that organic agriculture can be one of the solutions we have in our toolkit. Every time you choose an organic piece of fruit, cereal or organic sheets and towels you are creating a market for an organic farmer. This farmer can then convert more acreage to organic production. As we increase organic acreage the solutions for climate change will broaden and we can begin to help restore balance to our planet. Let’s not waste this moment in time, our children are counting on it.
Read more from the “Conscious Kitchen” about how sustainable food practices can reduce global warming. http://blog.simplycentered.com/blog/elaine/2014/11/conscious-kitchen.html