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Climate Change and Agriculture

 Will we be growing citrus fruit in central New Mexico?

three_cuties.jpgGlobal warming, climate change, climate variability, whatever you call it, it all means one thing--the climate and the environment are being altered due to anthropogenic (human-caused) forces.   So what does this mean for New Mexico farmers?  Here in the southwest we should prepare ourselves for longer, warmer and dryer growing conditions.  This is what the MRCOG Agriculture Collaborative heard on an already blazing hot day this July.

Bernard Zak, Senior Scientist at Sandia Labs and member of an international research team of scientists working the North Slope of Alaska, and Dr. David Gutzler from University of New Mexico Earth and Planetary Sciences, captivated the Agriculture Collaborative with hard facts and a not-so-pretty forecast.  Bernie Zak presented peer reviewed evidence of global warming that has been used in key policy documents (including a widely accepted report on climate change, the 2007 IPCC Report).  David Gutzler illustrated models based on climate patterns of the past century in New Mexico to understand how climate variability might play out in the future.  

Both scientists came to agreement in two overarching ways.  First, climate change appears to be happening faster than the models have predicted.  Second, climate variability will further compromise already dire water limitations in the State of New Mexico.  One model even predicted that within the next century our climate will resemble the climate of Juarez and what we have experienced as intermittent drought periods will become a perpetual drought (somebody get me a margarita!). 

Sandra Ely, Energy and Environment Coordinator for the NM Environment Department, was present and offered some encouragement. She reported that in 2006 Governor Richardson created the New Mexico Climate Change Advisory Group which developed 69 recommendations on ways to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions (several of which were agricultural strategies). The state, said Ely, is proactively working with 40 of the 69 recommendations, and developing a cap and trade program. The agricultural recommendations included carbon sequestration, a "buy local" program and goal of 25% local food consumption by 2020. The Organization Foodprint NM is working to address the agriculture strategies and is active in the development of the New Mexico foodshed.

UNM Sustainability Studies PHD candidate Miguel Santistevan was the unscheduled closer.  Santistevan referenced a "resilient" agricultural past in New Mexico that we should draw upon.  Our ancestors have seen climate change, he reported, and we have the knowledge to build up our agricultural systems to help stand this test of change.  He suggested that we look to traditional agricultural practices where the intent was to live in balance with the land.  The task, he said, is simple:  take care of the water we have, the soil and the seeds. 

Although climate change is a lynchpin issue facing all facets of national policy today, it presents a variety of opportunities for improved stewardship of our planet.  Once again local agriculture appears to be part of the solution.



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