Floods & Food
Hey! Before we get into it be sure to check out today’s episode of The Future of Agriculture podcast where I interview a Kingsburg CA farmer Ben Moore who started the food waste brand, Ugly:
Now back to it:
The effects of atmospheric river storms in California have received a lot of attention in the news lately within the context of climate change. As I write, world leaders are assembled in Davos discussing the risks to our planet due to extreme weather events. Back here in California, if you ask a farmer about the weather you might be surprised to hear that drought followed by atmospheric rivers is a cyclical pattern. But most farmers have been too busy dealing with the mess from all the flooding to talk to the press.
Political and cultural elites flying private to discuss global issues over fondue is all well and good but today I’m going to bring the weather topic down to the farm level; and not just the ag industry’s frustration over lack of water storage, but the bright spots too.
California is the 5th supplier of food globally and supplies more than two-thirds of U.S. fruits and nuts and one-third of its vegetables. When rivers overflow and the landscape cannot absorb more moisture, fields drown.
Check out this aerial view from Turlock Fruit CEO and pilot, Neill Callis just a few days ago.
The immediate loss of destroyed crops is one thing. But seeds can’t go in the ground when the soil is this wet so missed plantings of winter crops (like onions, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce), as well as double croppings of feed like corn silage is another loss we’ll be hearing about in a few months when there’s no harvest.
However, not everyone is adversely affected in the short run. For commodities that had severe water cuts like rice,
“It’s looking very positive for water deliveries to happen this year so that a full rice crop can hopefully be planted,” said Colleen Cecil, executive director of the Butte County Farm Bureau. “The water is definitely much needed.”
California infrastructure has not kept up. We have no new dams and our old reservoirs are unable to cope with containing and transporting water. One of the more devastating consequences of our lack of water storage has been subsidence (sinking ground) due to aggressive well pumping.
Necessity is the mother of invention and happily there is collaboration with the state on Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) which last week’s flooding provided an opportunity to showcase.
Check out Christine Gemperle in her almond orchard with CDFA Secretary Karen Ross who joined California Natural Resources Agency secretary Wade Crowfoot showing us how intentional flooding with MAR helps with groundwater recharge.
Excessive rains have tested the benefits of regenerative farming. The tenants of regenerative being no-till, cover cropping, and diverse crop rotations. The promise is that developing organic matter in the soil allows for better water absorption. As you can see at Bowles Farming, regenerative seems to be working!
Overall, the sentiment for all this rain seems to be one of gratitude mixed with regret.
“It is incredibly frustrating that we’re getting all of this rain and we could have more storage, and we don’t,” Colleen Cecil said.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the storm, how it affected you/your farm, and what you think of California water storage.
All my best,