Climate Change and the Food We Eat

The SF Chronicle, unique among big, local dailies continues to provide frequent, front-page coverage of the climate change and how our daily lives are, or will, be affected.  This morning it’s what is happening to agriculture in California.

Risks include rising heat, increasing salt in the soil, less water and no insurance.

While wine isn’t in the basic food group as it is in France, it is on most grow-up tables in California.

Napa vintners already are feeling the effects of the changing odds. In 2010, the wine industry had one of its worst years on record when days of record-breaking heat in August were followed by a few freakish days of frost.

“You’re ripening earlier, in a warmer time of the year under a warmer climate, so you’re getting a double whammy,” Weiss said. Even just a week’s difference, he said, can affect the quality of a Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Cherries, I suppose we could do without and still live pretty good lives, but if the cherry in the hot time has the roll of the canary in the coal-mine we’re in serious trouble.

In April, the cherries were blooming in the Colombini family orchard in the San Joaquin Valley, their blossoms a signal that the harvest would be coming in six weeks.

But there was trouble lurking under those delicate blossoms. Jeff Colombini, director of the family company, Lodi Farming, pointed to the erratic blooming of his trees – a flower here and there, but many stunted, half-grown blossoms. That is a sign, he said, of the “stresses that come with not enough chill hours.”

Most of the highest-quality cherry varieties in the state are tuned for a November or December chill, which slows down the metabolism of the nascent fruit and elongates the ripening process that comes with the onset of warmer weather.

For a perfect California cherry, the trees need 1,200 to 1,400 hours of “chill time.” But Joseph Grant, a UC Cooperative Extension farm adviser in Stockton, said that lately, cherry growers have been seeing more like 1,000 to 1,100 hours per season.

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