When the heat doesn’t stop: adapting to climate change
By Casey Holland, Red Tractor Farm
Heat. Some of the most intense heat you’ve ever felt. 100 degrees and climbing; sweat dripping out of every pore. In mid-July, I looked at the weather report and realized it would be 100+ all week. The heat had already lasted a month. The fields didn’t look much better than the heat felt. The plants were clearly stressed despite all the water they were getting. Nothing does well in that kind of heat.
It is moments like these that I remember that I’m farming in the middle of a desert; that many of these blooms are unnatural and this green unsustainable. Last year was the warmest year on record; this year looks like it’s going to be even warmer. And this year we don’t even have El Nino to depend on.
By July, I am facing so many struggles due to the heat that I am just trying to make the best of it and ride it out. This season has been so intense that I am already spending a lot of time thinking through what I plan to do differently next year. What crops are doing best in this severe heat? Which pests have become even worse as this heat is beating down on us? The brutal reality of living in a desert during one of the biggest shifts in our global climate, is one of the biggest barriers facing the farm.
It’s a reality that is difficult to face, but year after year, as the heat becomes more intense and the rain becomes more scarce, I have to come to terms with what this new reality truly means for the farm’s future. All of us, myself included, enjoy a rather luxurious bounty that is not at all in line with what our local environment is suited for. Tomatoes are a tropical fruit, for instance, and definitely not at all adapted to the arid region I find myself struggling to grow them in, season after season. For now, it is worth it. We have the water. A question that haunts me though is – when will it cease to be worth it, and what will I do when it isn’t? What will that mean for those of us who have grown accustomed to the bountiful, year-round availability of every type of food that the global food system has created? How will we survive?
The day-to-day struggles of the present seem almost silly when I attempt to comprehend and address the challenges of climate change facing all of us in the years ahead. I have heard it said that in the future, wars will no longer be fought about material resources or oil, but over water. There were times in our history when water was not so easy to come by, when wells were not drilled, and the rain was all humanity had to depend on for survival. Looking to the past, the Pueblo cultures that preceded all of us in this region subsisted mostly off food that could survive with very little water. Some of these foods, such as corn and beans, are familiar to us; others, we consider weeds and nuisances. When every drop of water is the difference between life and death, this knowledge of the weeds might save us.
In the meantime, I try to acknowledge my current privilege and recognize the importance of remembering how people once lived in the inhospitable yet bountiful desert. It will be crucial to adapt these ways for modern times so we can continue to live here in this place so many of us call home.
Despite these difficulties, my commitment to farming in New Mexico remains stronger than ever. If my comrades and I abandon this place, what will become of the people who have no choice but to stay? The human cost will be high. My community is too important to me—I won’t leave it behind for greener pastures. People have lived here for thousands of years; by staying and struggling, I hope to ensure that we will live here for thousands more.
As the climate continues to shift, we will have to adapt and do what we can to survive. In the future there may be no more tomatoes, but there will be life. By being conscientious about what we will need to do in the future to survive and admitting that we are past the point of being able to prevent catastrophic climate change, hopefully we will be ready.
This post is part of a series following four young farmers/ranchers from Colorado and New Mexico as they write about their experiences with water access and explain everything from what it feels like to clean a 400-year-old acequia to how they’ve learned to make the most of the water they have through conservation and crop selection. To help you understand the terminology around water access, we’ve put together a short glossary at the bottom of this blog post .