Climate Change Impacts Available Water for Farms

Water scarcity and water supply unreliability are at the top of many people’s minds, but when you look at how these link to climate change, the problem can begin to seem huge and perhaps unmanageable. With reports that this January and February were the driest on record, it is certainly a time to consider how we take impactful actions. This article highlights some great practices for farmers, ranchers, and land owners to consider adopting.

This post was republished with permission from the author. The original was published in the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau ‘Between the Furrows’ Newsletter, July 2013.

By: Rich Casale, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Scientists predict that climate change impacts on California agriculture will include less available water, drier and hotter conditions, more unpredictable and extreme weather events, and new pest and disease pressures. Building healthier soils can help growers cope with climate  change while improving crop yields, increasing soil water holding capacity and water infiltration rates, improving fertility and reducing input costs. The ability to cycle nutrients and provide “free” fertilizer is a major benefit of building healthy soil. In addition, increasing soil organic matter can also help stabilize soil against erosion and damaging runoff; minimize soil temperature fluctuations; provide habitat for beneficial soil microorganisms; and store (or “sequester”) carbon that could otherwise accumulate in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Keeping nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen in balance is important not only for healthy soils but also to reduce “greenhouse gases” (carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) in the atmosphere. Note: Synthetic fertilizers deplete soil organic matter while adding soil organic matter in the form of plant material compost, cover crops, dry manure, etc. improves overall and long-term soil health with all the benefits mentioned above.

Growers interested in soil building and other conservation practices that help conserve and/or reduce reliance on irrigation water supplies can get both technical and financial assistance by contacting the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service at 475-1967.

Information for this article came from CalCAN, Resource Conservation Districts, UCCE, NRCS, and Western SARE.  For additional resources visit: www.calclimateag.org.

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