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California’s drought is strangling the farming industry

By Scott Wilson Photo: John Brecher/For The Washington Post

Westside Elementary opened its doors nearly a century ago here in the San Joaquin Valley, among the most productive agricultural regions on earth. As recently as 1995, nearly 500 students filled its classrooms. Now 160 students attend and enrollment is falling fast.


Q: How will climate change affect major crops?

A: Crops like wheat, peaches, coffee, corn, and almonds will see the impact:

  • Wheat will suffer from hotter temperatures. India is likely to see a large drop in wheat production due to heat stress — about 8 percent if average global temperatures rise by 1 degree Celsius, according to one recent study.
  • Peaches, like many fruit trees, must experience enough chill during wintertime otherwise they get confused and don’t bloom properly. No bloom, no harvest. California’s Central Valley peach trees require about 700 “chilling hours” during the winter and scientists are predicting that by the end of the century, only 10 percent of the valley will reliably see that much chilling.
  • Coffee can’t take freezing temperatures, but it doesn’t like extreme heat, either. Brazil is the biggest coffee producer in the world, by far, but as the globe warms up, most of its main coffee-growing regions probably won’t be suitable for growing this crop anymore, due to heat as well as more frequent rainstorms.
  • Almonds are a dramatic illustration of how subtle shifts in climate can have huge effects. California’s farms rely heavily on snow that piles up in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter, and then slowly melts during the summer, delivering a vital flow of water to the state’s irrigation canals. As the climate warms, though, winter precipitation will arrive more often as rain, and the snow that does fall will melt much more quickly, leaving farmers scrambling for water to keep crops alive in late summer. Catastrophic shortages of water are especially bad for tree crops, of which almonds are the biggest. More at NPR