How do you farm with climate change and drought?

First of all, no drought here in Kona. June, as with May, broke monthly rain records, and we’re well above average for year-to-date rainfall. We had about 10 inches of rain in June. Compare that with Waikoloa, a 45 minute drive north, “… 141% of average rainfall during June with 0.89 inches falling during the month” as reported in West Hawaii Today‘s “June Juxtaposition” article. And elsewhere north of our coffee belt, it’s drying out. The Kohala districts are pretty arid, and that’s where the big, fancy resorts are. When people come from the mainland, they usually want reliably nice, sunny weather.

Even the New York Times has reported on Hawaii island’s drought and wildfires in its “How Bad Are U.S. Wildfires? Even Hawaii Is Battling a Surge.

Heavy rains encourage unfettered growth of invasive species, like guinea grass, and dry, hot summers make them highly flammable.

… the authorities in Hawaii also cite other factors that make Hawaii unique. Those include big shifts in rainfall patterns over the archipelago and tourism’s eclipse of large-scale farming in Hawaii’s economy, allowing nonnative plants to overtake idled sugar cane and pineapple plantations.

Not to mention idled coffee farms. I’ll remind you of some of our farm’s before and after photos, which wasn’t even an idled farm, it was just unkempt; someone was still picking coffee. Just imagine if all that growth didn’t get rain for months and baked in 80+ degree temperatures.

Here in the coffee belt, we ARE getting good rain now. But during the last years of the decades-long eruption cycle, there were some drought periods, many associated with El Niño and La Niña weather phases.

I am back to this post, having been lost in the (figurative) weeds trying to gain some type of general understanding about our weather. I got especially confused because the Hawaii weather experts essentially said La Niña weather phases brought MORE rain. Then they said the relationship between La Niña and rainfall changed, now La Niña is associated with LESS than average rainfall. And then things changed after 2018, perhaps because of the end of the eruption. AND, the Kona Coffee Belt is different than the rest of the island and state. So, I don’t really know. We in Kona are experiencing a lot of rain now, though.

This article, on the other hand, is an understandable, big picture description of Big Island weather. Maybe you don’t think you’re all that interested in our weather. But I do recommend the useful section in the article answering “What is the best time to visit the Big Island?”

Drought is the big news, though nothing new, for California. I’ve been completely baffled by the recent movement to plant coffee trees in California. Here’s a link to my February post. And here’s a link to the recent New York Times article, “It’s Some of America’s Richest Farmland. But What Is It Without Water?”

“Each time we have a drought you’re seeing a little glimpse into what will happen more frequently in our climate future,” said Morgan Levy, a professor specializing in water science and policy at the University of California, San Diego.

The last story was about a man who took over his father’s farm, switched from cotton to tomatoes, bought a factory to process tomatoes into tomato paste for ketchup, ripped out his highest value crop, almonds, and is now thinking of replacing most of his crops with a solar farm to harvest energy to sell back to the grid. Wow!

We have residential solar panels, but they’re not reaching their potential because we’re under rain and cloud cover so much of the time lately. Electricity is really expensive here, higher than any other US state, about $0.34/kwh. This article addresses just that Hawaii land-use conflict: agriculture vs. renewable energy.

And another loose connection to all of these topics, what about planting coffee in Florida? Makes more sense than in California.

One thought on “How do you farm with climate change and drought?

  1. I was just reading about drought and water shortage in much of Hawaii. And then I was confused about all of your coffee belt rain. I was gonna text you for your thoughts and then I said to myself “better go check those blogs”. Not only is weather weird, it’s getting weirder.

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