Ag Today September 20, 2021

High temperatures, wildfire smoke and drought: The politics of climate change in one California congressional district [CNN]

The changing climate is everywhere Gustavo Carranza looks when he walks through his undulating citrus farm here in this tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Smoke from nearby wildfires fills the sky.  And, most concerning, the water he needs to run his 150-acre farm has become so scarce that Carranza, the son of farm workers in California’s Central Valley who grew up picking and pruning every weekend, is worried about encouraging his own children to take over the farm he and his brothers founded two decades ago. “That uncertainty of the water situation, it’s like you can’t feel that happy about them trying to come back to the family business,” said Carranza. Here in America’s so-called fruit basket, where roughly one-quarter of the nation’s food is produced, drought is everywhere. Rivers have turned into nothing but sandy lines on maps, countless irrigation canals are parched and so much water has been pulled from underground aquafers that the ground in some areas is physically sinking. According to the US Drought Monitor, much of the Central Valley has reached “exceptional drought” levels, the group’s highest intensity. The district, which some studies finding is well over 70% Hispanic — backed Joe Biden over Donald Trump by nearly 11 percentage points in 2020. It is currently represented by Republican Rep. David Valadao, making the district the most Democratic to be represented by a Republican in Congress. But Valadao has been in a constant fight to keep his seat.


Opinion: Water markets can help bring California’s groundwater into balance [Cal Matters}

The San Joaquin Valley town of Corcoran is sinking. It’s fallen as much as 11.5 feet in some places, damaging drinking wells, changing the town’s flood zones and undermining critical infrastructure. The culprit here, though, is no ordinary villain – it’s the overpumping of groundwater. Corcoran’s story, while extreme, is not unique. Groundwater is an increasingly important – and threatened – resource in California. The 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act seeks to remedy that. But the state’s water market – a key tool to help implement the law – is struggling to expand. The groundwater act mandates local water users to bring their groundwater basins into long-term balance by the early 2040s. This means making up heightened pumping that typically occurs during droughts by pumping less, and recharging more, in other years. Water trading and banking (i.e., underground storage) can lessen the economic costs of this shift. Done well, these tools can foster cooperation and boost resilience across all sectors. (From Andrew Ayres and Ellen Hanak, Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center.)


Water transfers helped farmers survive this year. Now, all eyes are on the coming water year [Bakersfield Californian]

Water transfers, trades and sales doubled this year as drought left San Joaquin Valley farmers scrambling for supplies. “This has been kind of an exceptional year for transfers,” said Sam Boland-Brien, program manager at the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Water Rights. Boland-Brien said he’s seen about twice the amount of transfers this year compared to an average water year. Surface supplies were slashed to 5 percent of contracted amounts for State Water Project contractors and many federal Central Valley Project contractors. Transfers typically take 30 days for approval, Boland-Brien said. But the 2021 drought proclamation shortened the comment period to 15 days, making the whole approval process just 45 days long and moving it entirely online. For water districts and agencies, the lack of surface water has been expensive and fueled more groundwater pumping.


Guest column: Resilience for farmworkers and farms key to Ventura County’s future [Ventura County Star]

The warming climate is bad news for all of us. In Ventura County, however, few are as vulnerable to its dangers as farmers and farmworkers.  The reason is pretty simple. With few exceptions, farming takes place outdoors. And although there are many agricultural jobs inside packing and processing facilities, greenhouses and industrial settings, most agricultural labor is likewise performed outside, in our rich landscape of fields and orchards. As a result, farming operators and farmworkers are engaged in a constant dance with the weather. So for them, the scenarios predicted by climate modelling for this region — longer and deeper droughts, fewer but more intense rain events, rising temperatures, more frequent and more destructive wildfires — pose particular risks. This is why we both support the new Achieving Resilient Communities project now underway in the county. The project, spearheaded by the California Public Health Institute, is launching a “Cool Communities” initiative to reduce dangerous heat in homes, neighborhoods, parks and workplaces. Although the two of us may disagree about some policy issues, we both believe that protecting farming and farmworkers is critical to our county’s future. Extreme heat events can damage crops directly. A three-day heat wave in July 2018, for example, caused three years’ worth of damage to our avocado crop. After working in the fields under the hot sun, a farmworker’s internal body temperature can rise to dangerous levels. The threat of climate change makes farmworkers and farm owners allies in building resilience for the communities and farms vulnerable to heat and fire. (From John Krist, chief executive officer of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, and Carmen Ramirez, 5th District county supervisor and an attorney who has represented farmworker families.)


Harvest looks good for Summit area winemakers [San Jose Mercury News]

What a difference a vintage makes. Last year, smoke from the CZU and Monterey fires gave most wineries in the Summit Road area cause for worry, but this year it looks like a big, clean, juicy crop. Burrell School Vineyards and Winery led the way with a pinot noir pick early this month. Large, ripe clusters from the mostly south- and west-facing mountain ridgetop had just the right amount of heat to ripen them before the big warmup that usually occurs over Labor Day weekend. “All the pinot noir has been harvested, about seven tons,” said Burrell CFO Elena Moulton, daughter of winemaker Dave Moulton. “Next up is cabernet from the Pichon Vineyards (above Lexington Reservoir), followed by estate chardonnay.” At the top of the mountain at 2,600 feet, Loma Prieta Winery’s early September harvest was its estate Pinotage, which came in a full month earlier than in 2019.


Return of Farm-to-Fork Festival brings welcome boost to Sacramento economy [KCRA-3 Sacramento]

Large crowds gathered at the Farm-to-Fork Festival on Saturday in Sacramento, driving welcome foot traffic and dollars for participating vendors. The annual event returned after a long hiatus due to the pandemic. “It feels fantastic. Not only because we can employ more people,” said Julio Ortiz, co-owner of Gaspachos USA, a fruit and juice bar. “Being able to get back out and feel the love of the people who support you and love your product, it really gives us life.” “If you want to look at people who’ve been really hurt the last 18 months, it’s people who go to festivals and make their living that way, because there hasn’t been any,” said Mike Testa, president of Visit Sacramento. His organization puts together the festival.



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