Turns Out, Warming, Extremes, Not so Good for Food Crops

August 18, 2021

The “CO2 will green the earth” crock turns out to be, well, a crock.


Devastating heat. Debilitating droughts. Crippling frost. Extreme weather is creating nightmares for farmers around the world — and making food more expensive for Americans.Arabica coffee futures have almost doubled over the past year to seven-year highs as Brazil grapples with frost conditions that have wiped out crops. Retail coffee prices will likely follow suit.

Sugar prices are also on the rise, driven up by the frost in Brazil as well as dry weather in the Dakotas and Red River Valley. Wheat, one of the most common food sources for the average diet, has surged to the highest level in nearly eight years amid soaring temperatures and droughts. 

The food price spikes demonstrate how extreme weather, much of it caused by the climate crisis, is having a real-world impact on Americans. And climate scientists warn the fallout will only intensify from here.

“Climate change is coming right into our dining room tables,” Cynthia Rosenzweig, adjunct senior research scientist at the Columbia University Earth Institute, told CNN Business.

World food prices have soared by 31% over the past year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Supply shortages caused by extreme weather is one of several factors behind this food inflation. “There’s no doubt that changes in weather patterns are impacting our food supply,” said Jennifer Bartashus, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence who covers retail staples and packaged food. Robert Yawger, a 35-year veteran of the commodities industry, is no stranger to price booms in agriculture. But unlike prior booms, this one isn’t being driven by typical factors like emerging market demand or a weak US dollar.

“In the past, it wasn’t that there was a climate catastrophe rallying everything at once,” said Yawger, executive director of energy futures at Mizuho Securities. “I’ve never seen anything like this — where everything is bid to the moon at the same time.”

Morning Ag Clips:

 As temperatures recently reached triple digits, farmer Joe Del Bosque inspected the almonds in his parched orchard in California’s agriculture-rich San Joaquin Valley, where a deepening drought threatens one of the state’s most profitable crops.

Del Bosque doesn’t have enough water to properly irrigate his almond orchards, so he’s practicing “deficit irrigation” — providing less water than the trees need. He left a third of his farmland unplanted to save water for the nuts. And he may pull out 100 of his 600 acres of almond trees after the late summer harvest — years earlier than planned.

“We may have to sacrifice one of them at the end of the year if we feel that we don’t have enough water next year,” said Del Bosque, who also grows melons, cherries and asparagus. “That means that our huge investment that we put in these trees is gone.”

A historic drought across the U.S. West is taking a heavy toll on California’s $6 billion almond industry, which produces roughly 80% of the world’s almonds. More growers are expected to abandon their orchards as water becomes scarce and expensive.

It’s a sharp reversal for the almond’s relentless expansion in California’s agricultural Central Valley, whose dry Mediterranean climate and reliable irrigation system made it the perfect location to grow the increasingly popular nut.

Almond orchards are thirsty permanent crops that need water year-round, clashing with a worsening drought and intensifying heat waves tied to climate change. Scientists say climate change has made the American West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will keep making weather more extreme.

California almond production grew from 370 million pounds (nearly 168 million kilograms) in 1995 to a record 3.1 billion pounds (1.4 billion kilograms) in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During that period, land planted with almond trees grew from 756 square miles (1,958 square kilometers) to 2,500 square miles (6,475 square kilometers).

In May, the USDA projected that California’s almond crop would hit a record 3.2 billion pounds (1.5 billion kilograms) this year, but in July, it scaled back that estimate to 2.8 billion pounds (1.3 billion kilograms), citing low water availability and record heat.

“A lot of growers are having to go through a stressful time to make the water they have last to keep their trees alive,” said Richard Waycott, president and CEO of the Almond Board of California, which represents more than 7,600 growers and processors.

Almonds are California’s top agricultural export. The industry ships about 70% of its almonds overseas, fueled by strong demand in India, East Asia and Europe, according to the board.

As almond prices rose during a previous drought that California declared from 2012 to 2016, farmers and investors planted hundreds of square miles of new orchards in areas that lack reliable water supplies.

“All of this increase in almonds and this increase in water demand, it’s been done at a time when there’s virtually no increase in water supply,” said David Goldhamer, a water management specialist at the University of California, Davis. “The water embodied in the production of those almonds is being exported out of this country.”

.Hunter Cutting ads food for thought. Growing extremely thirsty crops in an area prone to mega droughts probably short sighted.

14 Responses to “Turns Out, Warming, Extremes, Not so Good for Food Crops”

  1. indy222 Says:

    I biked with someone a few years back, who was an almond grower in the Central Valley of CA. Another problem not cited here is decline of bees. He used to be able to rent boxes of bees for 3 months for maybe $1000. Now (3 years ago), he has to spend $20,000, and he only gets to keep them for a few weeks.

    The insect losses in CA, from personal experience and anecdote from friends, is amazing. Used to be not long ago you couldn’t drive through the Salinas Valley or Cantral Valley or other rural places w/o stopping to clean your windshield at every gas stop. Now, you can drives hundreds of miles w/o a bug on the windshield.

    Newts? Used to see them by the hundreds. Now, the past 2 years, I’ve seen 1. Per year. Frogs – haven’t heard then in my area for years. Silent Spring. Summer, Fall and Winter as well. And this was before the mega-fires.

    • redskylite Says:

      reuters aug 20th 2021 . .

      Stung by climate change: drought-weakened bee colonies shrink U.S. honey crop, threaten almonds

      “The dearth of strong bee colonies and the resulting higher costs to lease them for pollination services will add to the challenges of West Coast growers already dealing with drought and, in California, soaring water costs. It could also add to soaring costs consumers are facing at grocery stores.”

    • Keith McClary Says:

      “To grow one almond requires 1.1 gallons of water, and to grow a pound takes 1,900 gal”
      “ the water it takes to grow any vegetable, fruit or nut is a mere fraction of what is required to raise animal protein”

      • jimbills Says:

        Almonds are really bad, though.

        It’s not just water, even though almonds by themselves take up about 8% of California’s agricultural water supply (and CA uses the most water of any state in the U.S.). It’s also about bees. The almond crop is practically single-handedly responsible for the Varroa mite problem that is one of the main reasons for colony collapses.

        Almond milk is completely unnecessary as a product because of other options on the market.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        I’d really like to see the study that decided that the water it takes to grow any vegetable is a mere fraction of what is required to raise which animal protein. I want to see what they do and do not include in the calculation, what they mean by “water”, and whether farmed feed is included. And, of course, it matters who funded the study.

        (I’m pretty sure that grubs—an animal protein—can be grown with relatively little water per gram of useful nutrient.)

          • rhymeswithgoalie Says:


            I thought you were saying the opposite.

            This is what comes of commenting on blogs at 2 in the morning. Sorry I had you drag out a PDF (good content, though).

            “Never mind.”

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            Water use in food production, etc, some perspective from the EPA:


          • Gingerbaker Says:

            I would submit that providing a report from the Humane Society of India, on water usage in India agriculture with unspecified derivation of numbers and presented as units per calorie or gram protein, is not particularly instructive for those of us in the developed world.

            Much of the hyperbole about livestock water usage is because many sources count rainfall over the entire grasslands of the US as “water usage”. Which is insane.

            There are legitimate complaints about agriculture and livestock, but water usage in livestock is not one of them:


          • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

            Assume that thermo electric water bar is ‘use then release?

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            In a sense, it is all use and release, although ancient well water for irrigation is not going to be replenished any time soon.

  2. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    From direct observation, one day of Extreme heat, will hammer all vegetation including food crops. Totally destroy some even in one day. From weather records extreme heat days are increasing exponentially. In short, Oh Shit!

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