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In CA's Future: More Hay, Less Lemonade?

Climate change might actually help California’s agriculture industry, according to preliminary research findings by one of today’s speakers at the California Climate Change Conference in Sacramento. UC Santa Barbara professor Charles Kolstad described his current research assessing potential future effects of weather and climate on different California agricultural crops such as broccoli and lettuce. His team compiled historical data on farm revenues, crop production, soil quality, and weather, and applied it to two of the standard scenarios provided by the IPCC; A2 (“business as usual”) and B1 (“more moderate change in climate”). Kolstad found “a clearly positive effect [of climate change] on profits” that is mostly due to temperature changes. Precipitation changes had a lesser effect on the results.

However, before you fire up the Farmall (that’s a tractor, for you city folk) and head for the fields, it’s important to note that the study does not account for future water availability and price, which obviously will have a huge impact on the future of agriculture in the state. When one conference attendee took issue with the study, calling it “completely wrong” based on several factors, Kolstad said he was aware that water availability and prices could “swamp these results,” but said that the study was focused on just one piece of a complicated issue.

Of course, not all crops will benefit from increased temperatures. According to the study, cotton and hay will see some of the biggest gains, but food crops like table grapes and lemons will suffer. So at least the horses of the future will be well fed…or not.