Local News

Friday, Sep 28 2012 07:00 PM

Kern County farmers not convinced climate change is issue

BY REBECCA KHEEL Californian staff writer rkheel@bakersfield.com

The farming community in Kern County is split in its views on climate change with a chunk saying it's not an issue and others saying it profoundly affects their crops.

The weather has been off in recent years, but whether that's because of climate change and if farmers will need to change their practices is up for debate among Kern County farmers.

Steve Murray of Murray Family Farms said his cherry crops have been devastated by warmer winters as a result of climate change.

"What most people don't realize is the winter temperatures are warmer," he said. "Summers are warmer, too, but we're breaking records in winter."

Without the cool winters, his cherry trees don't get the rest they need. And without that rest, the cherry yield drops.

To compensate, Murray Family Farms has installed overhead sprinklers to cool the trees on warmer winter days. Other ways to cool the trees include coating them in white clay to reflect the sun, turning the irrigation off in September or October instead of November to give the trees more time to rest or making sure the soil is bare so there's nothing trapping heat.

Murray's also been looking at growing different varieties of cherries that don't need to get as cold. But, he said, there aren't that many options.

"We're doing everything to try to minimize that the trees are not getting rest," he said.

But Murray seems to be in the minority. Ben McFarland, executive director of the Kern County Farm Bureau, said far more members of the bureau are worried about government regulations to curb climate change than climate change itself.

California's Global Warming Solutions Act, which sets a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, will make farmers change their practices more and have a more negative effect than climate change, he said.

"The only thing that's going to put farmers out of business is regulations, not climate change," McFarland said.

Other farmers say the weather is different, but not enough to affect business.

"The weather isn't normal, but then again, we always joke about what is normal," said Mark Hall, a grape grower who owns Mark Hall Farming.

He added that it has been hot and the temperatures have fried his grapes, but not any more than normal.

Terry Nachtigall, an almond grower, said he sees the weather fluctuating from year to year. Because of that, he's not worried about planning for climate change.

"What's it going to be like in 20 years? God knows," he said. "I just don't concern myself."

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