The New York Times has a great piece by Gary Paul Nabhan on the threat posed to our food supply by the heat wave now blanketing the Western States:
People living outside the region seldom recognize its immense contribution to American agriculture: roughly 40 percent of the net farm income for the country normally comes from the 17 Western states; cattle and sheep production make up a significant part of that, as do salad greens, dry beans, onions, melons, hops, barley, wheat and citrus fruits. The current heat wave will undeniably diminish both the quality and quantity of these foods. What’s more, when food and forage crops, as well as livestock, have had to endure temperatures 10 to 20 degrees higher than the long-term averages, they require far more water than usual. The Western drought, which has persisted for the last few years, has already diminished both surface water and groundwater supplies and increased energy costs, because of all the water that has to be pumped in from elsewhere.
This will undoubtedly increase food prices, affecting consumers still stressed by the economic downturn. And while farmers can count on crop insurance to defray their losses, “such assistance is merely a temporary response to a long-term problem.” Nabhan notes that there are “dozens of time-tested strategies that our best farmers and ranchers have begun to use. ” The problem is that “several agribusiness advocacy organizations have done their best to block any federal effort to promote them, including leaving them out of the current farm bill, or of climate change legislation at all.”