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Down On The Farm

One of the goals of this adventure is to explore the secondary effects climate change will have on a whole variety of natural events, once it has unleashed its fury on honey bees and beekeeping. To me, probably the biggest target for this is the whole world of agriculture, in all its forms, in all its places, short, medium and long term. There are others who disagree about the actual target, but not that there isn’t a disaster in the making without some changes.

What will happen to what we eat, what we grow, what we burn, what we build with and all the other touch points bees and beekeeping have on, well, pretty much everything we touch?

To do this with any accuracy one has to have a feel for what bees and beekeeping are doing now, and what they used to do for all those things. So I throw out some thoughts here to start the fire. Just a few now, and more as they find prominence in both science, and speculation.

Right off, almond pollination comes to mind. By far the outstanding crop for beekeepers to work with each spring, but a variety of reasons reduced the number of available hives to pollinate those almonds with this past year. That’s OK, if the hives used are stronger than the typical hive used there. Growers are also removing less productive trees, concentrating bees’ visits on more productive trees. Which means a better crop….unless something goes wrong during bloom. More on this later.

One thing that has amused me over the years is that, for the most part, most people don’t get serious about something until it’s threatened to be removed. Then it’s scramble, scramble, scramble to make sure it doesn’t get lost. And suddenly growers in the valley are finding ways to save water, reuse water, make water stay where they want it….so they can continue to be farmers. Minimizing evaporation, seepage into the soil, reusing runoff water, leveling, installing new equipment, using more energy for pumping, fallowing some of the land, and other tricks of the trade. Last season the Imperial Valley Farm Bureau estimated growers suffered more than $50 million in crop losses. Climate change, less water, fewer acres of crops, less pollination needed, less income for beekeepers because of less land pollinated.

However, lots of rain and snow this winter in California has meant an abundance of that crop necessity. Earlier this spring, growers felt they would have a 95% chance of getting 50% of the water they needed to produce the crops they planted. Extreme weather since then has allowed vast lakes to reappear, flooding the acres of crops that were growing there out of existence. Truly, feast or famine.

You can see the side effects of this. Fewer crop acres, fewer crops, less employment from where ever ag employment is gathered from, less pollination required, less beekeeper income, fewer bees needed, plus fewer places for bees, plus overcrowding bee holding yards, increased transmission of mites and disease, or increased pest control costs.

And that’s just almonds. Texas corn fields with limited water now compared to five years ago have had to reevaluate irrigation management – how, how much, how often, mixed crops or single crop under a single pivot system, and the issues go on and on and on. Big ag, small ag, farmer’s markets, backyard gardens are all some form of agriculture, and all are participants in the Climate Change, bees and beekeeping picture.

Following is a recent report from Civil Eats, a Food Policy, Farming, Health and Environment organization that is in business to examine all of the things we bring up here that are/will/can/may change/affect/improve/destroy the relationship of bees, beekeeping and beekeepers.

Until next time, when I’ll share some of the best books around on Climate Change and all the rest, check this out….

From Civil Eats...

On November 6, world leaders will meet in Egypt for COP27, the 27th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference. In the run-up to the event, many groups are calling attention to what they see as an alarming lack of progress toward reducing emissions from food and agriculture and building a more resilient system.

On Monday, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food (GAFF) published a report showing that while funding has increased significantly, global governments are only directing 3 percent of their climate dollars toward food and agriculture systems. At the same time, a much larger amount of public money is being spent to prop up food and agriculture practices that can undermine climate action, such as the expansion of industrial beef and dairy production—and 70 percent of countries’ climate plans don’t include any details on how they will take action on food.

“Our research reveals a huge gap between countries’ stated levels of climate ambition and their plans to tackle climate impacts from food,” Patty Fong, GAFF’s Climate Program Director, said in a press release. That gap is especially significant given the findings of a U.N. report published Wednesday that concluded more than three-quarters of countries who made overall climate commitments last year are failing to live up to them, putting the planet on track for dangerous levels of warming.

Depending on how the number is calculated, the food and agriculture system accounts for between one-quarter and one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Food production is also especially vulnerable to climate impacts, including droughts, wildfires, and floods. In IPCC reports released over the past year, the world’s top climate experts emphasized the need to address that contribution and impact. In fact, they estimated that changes to the sector could provide nearly one-third of the greenhouse gas reductions urgently needed to avoid catastrophic outcomes.

At COP26 last year in Glasgow, food was in the spotlight slightly more than in previous years. Most significantly, more than 100 countries launched the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030. Livestock, food waste, and rice production are major contributors to methane emissions around the world, and reducing them was one of the driving goals behind the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) launch of the Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate last year.

But at an event this week called “Beyond Carbon: Food Systems, Climate and Greenwashing at COP27” organized and hosted by IPES-Food and A Growing Culture (AGC), scientists, advocates, and journalists pointed to AIM as an example of corporate greenwashing. Ricardo Salvador, the director of food and environment at the Union of Concerned Scientists (and a member of Civil Eats’ advisory board), said that everyone should be wary of food and agriculture solutions coming out of COP27 that “keep the system in place and make it a little less bad. There is an entire corporate infrastructure that has a vested interest in continuing to extract.”

That infrastructure is on full display in the list of organizations involved in the USDA’s AIM for Climate projects: Among the partners are CropLife International, the pesticide industry’s lobby group, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, and JBS, the world’s largest meat company. (It should also be noted that Coca-Cola, the world’s number one producer of fossil fuel-based plastic waste, is a sponsor of COP27.)

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