Climate change hits ag in Ventura County

Proud to have published this story recently in a prominent Ventura County publication. With the help of Ben Hatchett of the Desert Research Institute, we showed I think that avocados, though now a substantial part of Ventura County agriculture, will in the not-too-distant future be a much more risky proposition…but that other crops, such as mangos, might possibly become much more practical. I included perspectives from growers, farmers, ranchers, scientists, advocates and government officials. A comprehensive look, dare I suggest:

Local growers and ag experts weigh in

Is climate change impacting agriculture in Ventura County?

“Yes, but …” say the farmers, ranchers, water agency representatives and scientists I talked to about climate change in Ventura County. Growers and ranchers proceeded to talk about the harrowing drought and the devastating Thomas Fire, though many of those interviewed pointed out that these could be examples of weather, not long-term climate changes. They also mentioned the extreme two-day July heat wave that damaged avocado groves throughout the county.

Yet after detailing the damages they suffered, farmers and ranchers without exception stressed to me that they remain committed to their work with the land, and expressed confidence about the future of agriculture in Ventura County. (more)

A couple of excerpts worth noting and possibly tweeting:

On Ranching:

“The [ranching] industry has been severely impacted by drought,” [agricultural adviser Matthew Shapero] says. “You can define ‘drought’ in different ways, but precipitation has been significantly below average for six of the past seven years, and even the last two years, which provided some drought relief statewide, have not really benefited Ventura County all that much.”

On Bringing State Water to the Ojai Valley and W. Ventura Area:

John Krist, CEO of the Farm Bureau in Ventura County, doubts that any plan will bring much state water to Ojai agriculture.

“I’m pretty pessimistic about the chances of additional state water making much of a difference in the relatively dire situation in the west county,” he says. He explains that although Casitas has for years paid for the right to an allocation of 5,000 acre-feet a year of water from the state, on average the state fulfills less than 60% of the allocation for water districts, meaning that the amount of water available to Casitas would probably be less than 3,000 acre-feet a year. That number could fall to zero in a statewide drought, as happened during the drought in 2014.

Lakes Casitas in 2018

And on the rising temperatures:

In the future, those high temperatures [in Ventura County] will become more common and more extreme, according to projections calculated for us by Benjamin Hatchett, PhD., a climate scientist at the widely respected Desert Research Institute, working on a grant for the Watersheds Coalition of Ventura County.

Consulting with an expert at the California Avocado Commission, Hatchett learned that temperatures higher than 95° stress and can damage or kill avocado trees. Historically, Hatchett says, farmers in the Ojai and the Fillmore areas could expect to see temperatures in excess of that mark about 30 and 15 days a year on average, respectively.

Estimates using downscaled global climate models predict [Ojai] could have up to a seven-fold increase in the number of these very hot days for the late 21st century. “To be fair,” says Hatchett, “these are very preliminary results from this ongoing Ventura County study and show a worst-case scenario, but the increase is certainly concerning.


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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