Governor Newsom’s recent emergency declaration confirms what California’s agriculture industry has known for months. Drought has returned to California, in what has become a recurring theme of growing food in our state. Farmers and ranchers accept the risks that come with their way of life and have fought hard to be productive in one of the most heavily regulated industries in the state. Agriculture continues to adapt to meet evolving challenges and now more than ever consumers need to buy California grown produce.
We know what it means to grow food in ways that align with our shared California values. Growers understand the importance of implementing sustainable practices that make their products, communities, and environment more resilient.
But today, California’s farmers and ranchers face droughts on multiple fronts. A confluence of multiple pandemic-fueled market disruptions, combined with the third-driest year on record are depriving growers of the water, labor, and raw materials we need to protect the integrity of the food supply. The livelihoods of entire communities are at stake and farmers are being forced to make decisions with consequences that will reverberate for years to come.
The cost of shipping goods has more than tripled over the last year, according to the Freightos Baltic Index, which tracks global shipping costs. The nationwide lumber shortage has driven up the price of pallets used to ship produce. Disruptions to traditional shipping lanes have created bottlenecks at major ports across the globe. Labor shortages have resulted in additional uncertainty and delays for the shippers responsible for moving California’s produce throughout the country and the world.
All of this is intensified because it is happening, for the first time, against the backdrop of the state’s landmark law, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Fruit trees and vines represent decades-long commitments for growers who cannot make a decision each year about what to plant or not plant. Lacking any assurances that water will be available for irrigation this summer, farmers have already began sacrificing some of their fields to save others, leaving land fallowed, eliminating jobs and threatening unprecedented consolidation that will ultimately leave consumers with fewer locally grown options in their supermarkets.
Farmers are meeting these challenges head-on, but everyone has a role to play to maintain a safe, reliable, and healthy food supply. Consumers can do their part by keeping California on their plates and making California produce a regular part of their diets.
By seeking out and purchasing products that are homegrown right here in the Golden State, folks can support the women and men who grow, harvest, and produce our food and directly contribute to local economies in areas that have been disproportionality impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These communities are the bedrock of our state’s rural areas, and we cannot afford to allow them to languish in the face of these unprecedented challenges.
If Californians are as committed to environmental stewardship, economic mobility and sustainable agriculture as we say we are, then I believe consumers have a shared responsibility to support the industry that has and will continue to adapt to the challenges it faces, while ensuring supermarkets remained stocked with safe, healthy, and delicious food.
Remember to buy California grown.
Ian LeMay is the president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, one of the state’s oldest agricultural trade associations, representing growers, shippers and marketers of fresh grapes and deciduous tree fruits.