It got really, really hot early last summer in California’s Central Valley. For days, temperatures spiked above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, well over the 30-year average.
Toward the south end of the valley, many farmers had only just planted their crop of tomatoes, and the heat wave hit at the exact worst time. Tomato plants aren’t particularly delicate, but they have limits—especially in their young, tender moments when their spikey yellow flowers bloom. The result? Many flowers “aborted,” withering on the vine. Those that already had been pollinated simply fell off and produced no tomatoes.
Weather problems affect agriculture all the time. But climate change is intensifying the challenges, making it harder to grow beloved foods like tomatoes. The effects are sometimes obvious, like the heat wave (made 150 times more likely by climate change), but also manifest more subtly: The climate-exacerbated ongoing drought has left growers far short on water, for instance. Warming winters are allowing pests and diseases to nose farther and farther north into new tomato territory.
Climate change isn’t necessarily the top-of-mind pressure for California growers. But it’s playing a role familiar to agriculturalists and experts around the world: It’s simply making everything harder.
“Usually, we’re dealing with one problem at a time,” says Mike Montna, president of the California Tomato Growers Association. But now, “it feels like we’re all dealing with a lot all at once.”
Read more at nationalgeographic.com