Thursday, April 07, 2016

Farmers and climate change: they see the future with their own eyes ... by gimleteye

My father's intelligence was tempered by a vivid sense of humor. He carried both right to his last days on earth. He’s been gone six years and last week would have been 94. Last Sunday I thought of him after an early visit to a farmer’s market in South Miami, not far from home. I like getting there before opening; it is still cool and quiet.

Also, it is Spring in Florida, a time when sea grape leaves fall in heaps from limbs, frangipani buds and trumpet trees flower. Many of the vegetables we've enjoyed all winter are at the end. Soon it will be hot. Closing time is at hand. That is far from consumers' minds. In a few hours hundreds of shoppers will fill the market, stopping at stalls to compare, to select and buy. When the seasonal produce runs out in Homestead, the markets will fill from North Carolina and points north as the summer proceeds.

Now is a moment when vendors are setting up displays, carefully and artfully arranging fruit and vegetables to be alluring. I’ve seen and loved the same in Paris, in Madurai, and Yangon. I stopped to ask about mangoes with one vendor I know.

He farms a few acres in Homestead. The town is one of the southernmost in Florida, perched at the top of the Florida Keys, and well-known for growing winter fruit and vegetables.

In his mid fifties, of Mexican descent, the farmer's face is lined, craggy, and retains an optimism of watching things grow. “I have three mangoes,” he ticked off each variety. The Keitt, the Kip, and the Francis, a mango that matures in Haiti before the most of the Florida varietals.

He only had a dozen or so Keitt mangoes, and they were expensive. Local? I asked. It's early for mangoes in Homestead.

Mangoes like this Keitt, he said, belong in late May or early June. The farmer has worked Homestead fields since he was ten years old. Necessity. He has never seen a Homestead mango in early April. Ever.

The climate is crazy. I leave it like a punctuation mark to see how he picks it up.

Everything is crazy, he replies, then points to baskets of small fruit on his table. In one year I have had three blooms for this fruit. They are longons. Shelled, the fruit resembles the eyeball for which they are named in Chinese. He moves to a basket of guava. I have two blooms of guava in one year.

I wanted to be sure I understood what the farmer was saying. With the climate change now, this season, everything is different? He replied, looking straight at me, everything. Three blooms in one year? Two blooms? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, better known as NOAA, just made the following assessment: "During March, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 6.0F love the 20th century average. In January, rainfall in South Florida was four to five times higher than normal.
A Clipper cold-front dumped ice and snow after trees budded in an abnormal, warm late-winter in the northeastern United States
My mind ticked off how climate change deniers and skeptics jump at possibility that a warmer climate means increased productivity with fruit blooming multiple times. This is, however, pure speculation with mounting scientific evidence that is not the case at all. The farmer likely hadn't read the report in the Independent, "Soil crisis brought about by climate change may hit global food production, claims alarming new research."
“If the microbial community is not as resilient as we had assumed, then it calls into question the resilience of the overall environment to climate change,” said the report’s author Vanessa Bailey, of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the US.

It is often said “microbes run the world” because they are so numerous and lie behind countless ecosystem services in the soil. These include producing humus – the dark organic material in soils – and providing a critical water filter system for trees, in return for feeding on their sugars. \

We think we have time to debate carbon emission caps, cap and trade, new nuclear versus natural gas, centralized solar versus distributed power generation, Paris versus Fox. This is another piece of speculation: that we have time.

Everything on our plate, everything in the supermarket, everything depends on predictable seasonal weather. Fallow season is as important as spring. This point seems completely lost on individual consumers, taxpayers and voters. According to a recent report on Climate Wire, "SEA-LEVEL RISE: Miami businesses say it's a moneymaker to adapt for warming" (April 4, 2016):

There are plenty of business opportunities, said Quinn Eddins. As director of research and analysis for CBRE, he said a number of national and global real estate investors and developers have told him they want to invest in Miami and South Florida. But they have concerns about the resilience of potential commercial real estate projects. It might take a collective decision to build resilience into future development. It helps that they are having public discussions about the opportunities and risks, Eddins said.

"I think this represents a great opportunity for the commercial real estate industry in South Florida, because we're in a competition for investment with other major real estate markets across the country -- New York, Boston, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco -- that also have very large exposure to future losses due to climate change and coastal flooding," he said. "Here in South Florida, we're already ahead of the curve with all we've done already."

The most lucrative opportunity, though, might be in government contracts. A massive project launched in 2000 to restore the historic flow of the Everglades, now estimated to cost $16 billion, is closely tied to sea-level rise, since it will help protect the region from saltwater intrusion. Miami Beach is already well into a $400 million project to install seawater pumps and to elevate roads.

Similar efforts to elevate roads and bridges and upgrade pumps are also underway in other coastal cities in Florida, such as Fort Lauderdale, where Superstorm Sandy washed out a portion of the state highway that runs along the Atlantic Coast. There, the city is installing one-way valves in the stormwater system designed to send floodwater back to the sea, so that salt water can't bubble up from the drains. It doesn't help disperse water already on the ground from rising tides or inundation.

This cognitive dissonance is everywhere. One thinks about climate change and what's on the horizon, compared to the business-as-usual on a fine spring Sunday in contrast to thoughts recently published on a conservative website, Newsmax, by Florida Gov. Rick Scott who is planning a U.S. Senate bid to fill the soon-to-be-vacated seat of another Florida climate change denier, Marco Rubio. Scott has prohibited state agency officials from using the words, "climate change" in public forums. "I believe that if we join together in a peaceful revolution," Scott wrote, "American exceptionalism can triumph again. Let’s make the hard choices to have government live within its means. Let’s be honest with the American people about what programs government can afford and what it cannot. Let’s protect freedom — through economic strength at home and a strong national defense abroad. I have always believed our country is special, and with a major change in direction I know we cannot only regain the confidence of the American people, but give them something to be proud of again." ("Rick Scott wants a revolution", Newsmax, April 1, 2016)

So I ask the farmer, point-blank, what happens when it gets warmer in the winter, here. Without blinking, he says, everything dies. 

We can go a year of disastrous crops in California, or two or three or more, so long as the pressure is lightened by rainfall years intermittently average or slightly below. What happens when the trees and plants bloom, then, freeze hard in successive years, or when it is far too hot, then, far too flooded as climate-change extremes are proving out? We can't quite see -- at least most of us -- what is visible on the horizon. Science is starting to show us exactly what common sense observations are already indicating.

I doubt the Homestead farmer had the chance to read the recent report, "Extreme Weather Affects US Cereal Production".

An analysis of national production of 16 different cereal crops in 177 countries, and a comparison with the effects of about 2,800 weather disasters between 1964 and 2007, has for the first time provided a detailed snapshot of how extreme weather has affected overall cereal production globally, scientists said.

The study found that drought and heatwaves reduced cereal harvests by between 9 per cent and 10 per cent on average in the affected countries. However, the technically advanced arable farms of North America, Europe and Australia were even more strongly affected than the developing world, with average production cuts of about 20 per cent.

Researcher reveal in their study that the countries that are more advanced from the technical agriculture point of view including North America, Europe and Australasia faced a much severe decline in production at an average of 19.9 per cent because of droughts, which is roughly double the global average.

The study’s authors say their work throws a spotlight on the growing vulnerability of the world’s food supply to climate change. Their results could help guide agricultural policies as the atmosphere shifts to a more volatile state because of climate change, even as population growth puts more demands on the planet’s capacity to generate food.

The bright fact is that U.S. agricultural policy is far from adjusting to new realities of climate change. A significant segment of the American electorate -- represented by elected officials like the Florida governor Rick Scott -- still believe that if only government would shrivel to nothing, then our collective sense of security would rematerialized as a manifestation of exceptionalism.

Climate change has already thrown contemporary civilization off-kilter. Recent polling shows that two out of everything three Americans believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction. There is a sense of foreboding that resembles what some German and East European Jews felt in the early 1930s as the storm gathered strength. Many didn't want to see. And many who could have escaped didn't have the means to do so. A few fortunates escaped compared to the millions who later died in Nazi gas chambers.

I bought a few mangoes and said goodbye. Driving home was when I began thinking of my father. His life spanned traveling by horse and cart in his native Hungary to the internet, from a world traumatized by Spanish flu in 1918 to disease made explicable by 21st century electron microscopes. He was a Holocaust survivor who smoked his way through the war. In his late 80's, he died of lung cancer.

My father's sense of humor never failed to alleviate the pressure of bad news. On his deathbed, he quoted from Marie Antoinette, who faced her executioners: “Apres moi, le deluge.” We live on this planet as confidently as if we had another one to go to.


Philip Stoddard said...

Those Keitt mangos were imports. In Miami, the Keitt comes ripe in August, even in an El Niño year.
But with respect to cereal crop declines, we are f--ked. Erlich predicted a population crash half a century too soon, but he got the basic idea right. The agricultural revolution forestalled our species hitting the planet's carrying capacity by increasing crop yields, but those high yield crops depended on ideal growing conditions and lots of fertilizer. Knowing that climate change is negating ideal growing conditions, agronomist are developing crops that can withstand drought, if planted with advance knowledge of the season's conditions, but the allocation roots and shoots is different and the yields are necessarily lower. So rather than expanding yields to meet an expanding population, food production will decline. Veganism might take up some slack, but the overall equation is not a good one.

Anonymous said...

South Miami doesn't have a farmer's market on Sunday or any other day.

Alexandria said...

Every elected official has a second home somewhere else. They think they will be with the elitists who give them their campaign contributions. The MasterCard moment will be when their rich buddy puppeteers say there is not enough room on our mother ship. The biggest terrorists in the United States are elected officials they will kill us faster then any other threat out there. The real boogie man is us because collectively we continue to ignore reality and watch "Dancing with the stars" instead of caring about anything.

Anonymous said...

The fear of global warming doesn't bother this farmer. I'll take what mother nature gives me living on 9 ft elevation of oolite soil and rock in South Dade
As a mango grower for the past 60 years a good spray program with the right fungicide when the bloom comes and then sets fruit will give plenty of fruit for anyone who loves mangoes. Remember after the fruit sets you will have to continue spraying as the morning dampness and late spring rains will spot the fruit with black spots. This year's late blooming of both avocado and mango has brought the most bloom we've seen in many a decade. History of growing crops in agriculture repeats itself

A Redland Tropical Fruit Grower

Anonymous said...

The groves and farms are mostly in REDLAND, not Homestead. Homestead planted houses, Redland has managed to keep a lot of agriculture because of the ever important UDB.