Western Growers' Dennis Nuxoll and Matthew Allen Address Climate Change in Today's Fresh Produce Conversation
CALIFORNIA & WASHINGTON, DC - We are seeing the impacts of a changing climate all around us. This is the resounding statement that surfaces as I speak with Western Growers’ Dennis Nuxoll, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs, and Matthew Allen, Vice President of State Government Affairs.
“From our perspective, farmers are the original stewards of the land,” Dennis shares with me. “Everything they do is dependent on the landscape, and we are clearly seeing a changing climate around us. In California, we are faced with the recurring drought and a fire season that has shifted to a perpetual state of battling wildfires. Heat has impacted pest pressures and the effectiveness of pesticides.”
Such challenges are only the tip of the iceberg, and they are all inextricably linked to climate change, Dennis adds. No matter what side of the political issue you fall on, today’s environmental impacts are in dire need of attention and solutions. And, in California, we are parched and thirsty for those solutions.
“The drought in the Western United States has depleted reservoirs and on top of that, we do not have the updated infrastructure we need for the efficient storage and conveyance of the water we do receive,” Matthew says. “Fires impact air quality and our ability to work the land, and we put the health and wellbeing of our workers first. When we look at the domino effect occurring within our industry and how those elements are impacting the cost of inputs for ag, we are really in a bind.”
Our ag food producers are already paying the highest electric rates in the nation, Matthew notes.
“The shifting climate is providing less opportunity for our growers to find creative pathways to grow their businesses,” Matthew adds. “We're still operating within a legislative and regulatory framework that doesn't always incentivize growers to want to stay in California.”
The goal for Western Growers is to generate more opportunities for the industry to come together to find and troubleshoot solutions and to keep moving the needle to anticipate what issues are on the horizon.
For example, with eyes set on going zero carbon in the state, Western Growers’ members are asking themselves what this might mean for an industry like ours. How will it impact costs and members’ livelihood? How can electric trucks and tractors help to impact or lighten our environmental footprint, and at what cost? Idealism only gets one so far.
“It's not just because there's a cost to purchase that new technology, but there's a cost to get the electrical lines out to rural areas and facilities. There are huge permits that have to be taken out, and the question becomes if those permits can be allowed in a timely manner,” Matthew says.
Western Growers is looking at addressing these issues in both the short and long term.
“We have to be open to having some tough conversations and to assisting regulators and legislators to figure out solutions that will have minimal impact on our industry’s wellbeing,” Matthew concludes.
Dennis echoes Matthew’s call.
“There has not been much of a drive nor push for mandates and requirements at the federal level. So, at the federal level, what we are talking about is how do we, as an industry, seize the opportunities that will become available?” Dennis asks. “The Biden Administration would like to work very aggressively on climate change, such as how we can stimulate more carbon sequestration in agriculture. Many of those conversations, to be quite frank, are centered on midwestern row crops: corn and soybeans. Some of those conversations may also be linked to livestock operations. We need to focus the conversation on the produce industry so we do not get lost in the umbrella of policies that fall onto ag.”
Let’s consider this story just the beginning of a much longer conversation around climate change and ensuring agriculture has the tools to respond—and even the potential to benefit—from some of the programs that will be created to combat the issue.
Please stay tuned for the next article in this series, where Matthew and Dennis will address pest pressure and pesticide challenges as we look to distill the issues and conversations around climate change.