Viewpoint: American agriculture could ‘unravel’ without major sustainability changes

gardener holding dirt

Picture an ideal dinner plate. If you’re like most Americans, it features a hearty portion of meat, from animals fattened on midwestern corn and soybeans, and a helping of vegetables, largely trucked in from California. The unique landscapes we rely on to deliver this bounty …. are locked in a state of slow-motion ecological unraveling.

California’s agricultural sector has flourished from decades of easy access to water in one of the globe’s biggest swaths of Mediterranean climate. The Sierra Nevada …. But the Sierra snowpack has shown an overall declining trend for decades ….  A 2018 paper by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers articulates the alarming consensus: a “future of consistent low-to-no snowpack” for the Sierra Nevada, the irrigation jewel of our vegetable patch.

Related article:  Engineering rice plant roots increases crop yields in salty soil, study shows

Seventeen hundred miles to the east, the prevailing agriculture system consumes a different but equally precious resource: soil …. Today’s farmers encounter a weather regime radically different from that of their grandparents: more intense off-season storms, and thus ever-heavier pressure on the soil.

If global greenhouse gases continue rising, the region faces a 40% increase in precipitation by the late 21st century, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. The soil that makes one of the globe’s most important growing regions so productive is vanishing before our eyes, degrading a crucial food production region at the very time when climate change and global population growth call for building resilience.

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