Climate change is having such an impact on Californian farming that businesses are now radically changing their production systems – and how they manage water.
Californian farm director Don Cameron from Terranova Ranch, speaking at a Financial Times conference in London, said that ‘while there might not be climate change in Washington, there certainly is in California’.
Recently, his farming operation had experienced five years of drought followed by the wettest winter ever.
This prompted extreme vegetation growth, he said, which was followed by very dry weather this summer and autumn. Dry conditions, coupled with plenty of dry vegetation, was the reason California had been so badly hit by recent wildfires.
Now, instead of focusing on producing three or four commodity crops, his business grows 20-25 less typical and more specialist crops, including almonds and grapes.
This has helped with pest and disease management, as well as spreading the financial risk.
He said: “I like the challenge of the diversity, and it also keeps the workforce busy year-round, as well as stabilising employment and income.”
About 98 per cent of his crops’ produce is contracted before they are even planted to help stabilise the business.
He has also changed planting and harvesting times to take advantage of the changing weather patterns, and is now able to double crop land, getting two crops in a year.
He admitted this was only an option as California was ‘a very unique environment – there are very few places where you can grow all the crops we grow.’
Even so, it is challenging, as drought devastated the pistachio crop last year, he said.
While these fires had not hit Mr Cameron’s farming operation, the changing weather patterns had promoted a massive shift in cropping on his 3,000-hectare (7,500-acre) ranch.
“We are seeing more extreme weather and a general increase in temperature," he said.