In his July 21 New York Times OpEd, University of Arizona scientist and author Gary Paul Nabhan cautions of a "coming food crisis," caused by impacts to crops and livestock due to increasing heat waves and drought; this is especially true in the 17 western states of the US, where 40 percent of farm income is reported.
Climate change has resulted in more long stretches of double-digit heat, causing crop stress and requiring far more water than in the past. Nabhan says this "threat to the cornerstone of the American food supply" will result in increased food prices and lower quality and quantity of certain foods. However, he also suggests several ways farmers could adapt to climate change and help reduce these impacts to food production and profitability:
One strategy would be to promote the use of locally produced compost to increase the moisture-holding capacity of fields, orchards and vineyards. In addition to locking carbon in the soil, composting buffers crop roots from heat and drought while increasing forage and food-crop yields. By simply increasing organic matter in their fields from 1 percent to 5 percent, farmers can increase water storage in the root zones from 33 pounds per cubic meter to 195 pounds.
Nabhan says cities should be required to implement composting programs for food waste and green waste; that material can then be transported to nearby farms and used to make agricultural compost, which is a time-tested strategy.
Composting green waste and food waste helps reduce the amount of uncaptured Methane produced in landfills when organic material breaks rot in an uncontrolled environment. Methane is a Greenhouse Gas 25 times more potent than Carbon Dioxide and when it is released into the environment it is a contributor to the climate change that is impacting crops right now.
Investing in climate-change adaptation will be far more cost-effective than doling out $11.6 billion in crop insurance payments, as the government did last year, for farmers hit with diminished yields or all-out crop failures.
It’s now up to our political and business leaders to get their heads out of the hot sand and do something tangible to implement climate change policy and practices before farmers, ranchers and consumers are further affected. Climate adaptation is the game every food producer and eater must now play. A little investment coming too late will not help us adapt in time to this new reality.
Find out more about the environmental benefits of composting.
Photo Credit: WSU