Farming a Warming Planet

AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

California produces the bulk of America’s nuts, avocados, and citrus. Unfortunately, as the climate changes, no one’s sure how long those crops can grow. At Grist, Nathanael Johnson paints an unsettling portrait of California farmers struggling to balance their immediate need for annual income with the changing climate’s ability to support their trees in the future. California’s weather is increasingly erratic and it’s already confusing crops, ripening some fruits out of season and frying others in the sun. But as an experienced University of California extension agent put it: climate is only one of farmers’ many concerns.

“If you decide what to plant based on climate, but then can’t make the lease payment, that’s not sustainable,” Jarvis-Shean said.

If you are worried about water running out in 15 years, you might think it’s a good idea to cut down half the state’s almond groves — but if those almond trees are still putting money in your pockets, that wouldn’t make sense until the killer drought hits. That’s the crux of the matter for Sayer, and other farmers I interviewed. They’re concerned about the changing climate, but they always come up with ingenious plans to adapt to bad weather. It’s much harder for them to adapt to an overdrawn bank account.

Sayer grows mostly lemons right now, but they’re not long for this world. “You can see these lemon trees are getting a little rangy looking,” Sayer said, gesturing toward a leafless branch. “This is going to be their last harvest, then they’ve got a date with the chipper.”

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