From Droughts to Floods: California Growers' Strategies for a Sustainable Future

May 14, 2023

By Luke Hemphill

Luke Hemphill is a Director of Partnerships at Bluewhite, where he brings his extensive experience in sales and operations to the table. With a demonstrated history of providing leadership and strategy in green markets, Luke is a seasoned executive who has navigated various challenges in the agriculture field with confidence. Luke is the main point of contact for growers who want to transition to a twenty-first-century autonomous farm. He is deeply engaged in understanding their pain points and finding innovative ways to address them. Luke grew up in Fresno and has strong ties to the agriculture community throughout the country.

Recent events have made it clear that the challenges facing farmers in California are greater than ever before. From extreme weather events to market fluctuations, growers are facing significant obstacles that threaten their livelihoods. The markets for almonds, pistachios, and table grapes have all been impacted by factors such as rising labor costs, inconsistent weather, and regulatory challenges, which make growing food more challenging.

California has been hit by a series of extreme weather events, including droughts, wildfires, and flooding, all of which have caused significant damage to crops and infrastructure. To match the growing population, the room for growth seems limited. However, these challenges are not insurmountable. By taking a proactive approach and investing in their businesses, growers can prepare for the future and weather the storms.

In 2021, California faced one of the worst droughts in decades. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 90% of the state was experiencing drought conditions as of early May. This has had a significant impact on farmers, particularly those who grow crops that require a lot of water, such as

almonds and pistachios. Many farmers have had to reduce their water usage, which has impacted their yields and their profits. Where is the room for growth to match the growing population?

In addition to the drought, California has also faced a series of wildfires over the past few years. In 2020 alone, more than 4 million acres of land in the state were burned by wildfires. This has not only caused significant damage to infrastructure and to crops from smoke taint.

And then there's the flooding. As we mentioned earlier, the winter storms that hit California throughout the past 6 months caused significant damage to crops and infrastructure. But the worst may be yet to come. As temperatures rise and the snow melts, there is a risk of widespread flooding in parts of the state, particularly in areas that were hit hard by the winter storms.

One way to prepare for the future is by investing in products and services that can help insulate their business from future tragedies. Precision agriculture can help growers make more informed decisions about their farming practices, conserving resources and improving yields even in challenging conditions. Additionally, diversifying crops can spread risks and ensure that growers have something to fall back on if one crop fails.

In times of adversity or uncertainty in markets, business owners should resist the temptation to hunker down and continue with the status quo. For example, Toys "R" Us, the once-popular toy retailer. In the early 2000s, Toys "R" Us faced increasing competition from online retailers such as Amazon. However, the company failed to invest in its e-commerce capabilities and instead relied on its physical stores to drive sales.

As a result, Toys "R" Us' revenue declined and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2017. While the company attempted to restructure and improve its online presence, it ultimately struggled to compete with more digitally savvy retailers. The failure to invest in e-commerce capabilities during a time of adversity ultimately led to the downfall of Toys "R" Us.

This example highlights the importance of investing in new technologies and adapting to changing market conditions, especially during times of adversity. In the case of Toys "R" Us, the company could have better positioned itself for success by investing in its e-commerce capabilities and improving its online presence, which may have helped it better compete with online retailers like Amazon.

In recent years, we have witnessed an influx of ag tech products that not only drive cost savings but also assist growers in overcoming the challenges of the future. These innovative products have revolutionized the market by increasing productivity, reducing resource usage, such as water, fuel, and chemicals, and streamlining labor-intensive processes. The advancements in ag technology continue to evolve, bringing forth groundbreaking solutions to age-old problems. To remain competitive, businesses must embrace change, stay abreast of emerging technologies, and seize opportunities to optimize their operations.

Although the challenges facing growers are significant, there is still hope. By being proactive, investing in their businesses, and working together, growers can not only survive but thrive in the face of adversity. Climate scientists predict that extreme weather events are likely to get worse in the coming years, which means growers will need to be even more resilient and adaptable if they want to succeed.

The recent market data and extreme weather events have underscored the importance of preparing for an uncertain future. It's time for growers to future-proof their businesses by investing in new

technologies, diversifying crops, and working together. By doing so, they can not only survive but thrive in the face of adversity and continue to provide food for the growing population.