As anyone who has ever driven through the Central Valley can tell you, California would be a very different state without the rolling fields of fruit trees and grain that have become such vital parts of our identity.
Californian agriculture is a $37 billion industry, the largest in the United States. The Golden State supplies over half of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables in the U.S and is the largest producer of dairy products across the nation.
However, even as such a large economic force, agriculture has not escaped the impacts of urbanization. Since 1984, 1.3 million acres of farmland have been converted for non-agricultural uses in California and climate change threatens to wipe out season sensitive crops.
A new study by the California Natural Resources Agency examined the impacts of future climate change on agriculture and concluded that farmers will need to improve soil quality and change farm maintenance if they want to preserve the level of productivity that Californian lands are so known for.
Things like using higher quantities of compost can have dramatic effects of crop yield and damage resistance. Soils retain more moisture and create less need for intense irrigation when mixed with quality compost; conserving valuable energy and water. The presence of compost also increases microbial activity in soil and creates more drought resistant land. This will be especially important for crops when longer summers and milder winters cause high levels of soil evaporation.
In a great op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, Rich Rominger and our colleagues at the California Climate and Agriculture Network make the case for using this study as an imputus for investing in climate adaptation and mitigation in California's agricultural sector.
Interestingly enough, the study also showed that farmland can actually improve greenhouse gas emissions compared to urban areas. Agricultural land per acre releases only 1.4% of the GHGs compared to developed land, just another reason to keep farms healthier.
With farmland and cities growing ever more interconnected, smart land use will be vital. Compost rich soil requires less fertilizers and pesticides, which can contaminate waterways and air when used too much. Compost has even been shown to increase carbon retention in soil.
Every year Americans throw away almost half of the food they purchase, and of that only 3% even get reused for compost. When treated correctly everyday household food waste can be transformed into high quality compost that farmers and home gardeners can then use to drastically increase crop health.
Food waste diversion and composting is not going to be a passing trend. The global population is booming while farmlands are fading out, we cannot just continue business as usual. Organic waste is a highly untapped resource in the United States and California needs to address methods for harnessing that resource if they want farms to continue leading the nation in food production.