We get asked frequently on tours of the farm about how climate change is affecting us as farmers. While we haven’t seen a lot of big changes yet, there are many small changes that add up. This year, the late rains led to much more brown rot and a much larger compost pile than we planned for – we doubled our compost bin size this year, but it is overflowing every week. The drought that ended last year meant that we were uncertain about our water supply, and resulted in a long-needed groundwater management act going into effect next year, but so far we have heard that the new act will put a lot of small farms out of business. In the winter, we are never sure if we are going to get enough chilling hours for fruit set, so we leave more fruit wood on while we are pruning, which results in more thinning in the spring. Local weather, of course, isn’t what climate change is about – this summer has been one of the coolest I can remember in Davis, but world-wide it has been the hottest summer on record. I watch the videos of the Arctic ice melt with dread.
Sometimes it feels as a small-scale farmer that there isn’t much we can do about climate change. We have to drive pick-up trucks and vans to move the produce — one my least favorite things is to be stuck in a traffic jam with peaches in the van in the Bay area. We have made small changes: install solar panels on the top of the barn to power our water pumps, put in soil moisture sensors to reduce water use (see photo), use no-till farming to reduce our tractor use, and this year we made fewer and more efficient trips to the bay area. Still, I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent picking peaches feeling like we aren’t making the changes fast enough to fix agriculture and the planet’s problems. I feel like farmers are well poised to help with climate change if we worked together with scientists – farmers deal with food waste, water use, soil carbon, vehicle emissions, land use on a daily basis. This latest article in Science is some glimmer of hope – if the world planted a trillion trees (i.e. 132 trees per person), on top of reducing emissions, humans might be able to pull through this. Of course, that means that every person needs to have access to enough land to plant and maintain 132 trees. I know the Cloverleaf crew is fully on board with this mission – hopefully we will find enough land this winter to accomplish it!