California is no stranger to wildfires. While some states have a rainy season and a dry season, California has its fire season from July to October. This year, however, the fire season has had devastating impacts on the state. CalFire reports that this summer, California experienced five of the top 20 largest wildfires ever. This includes the August Complex (ranked at #1), the SCU Lightning Complex (ranked at #3), the LNU Lightning Complex (ranked at #4), the North Complex (ranked at #6), and the Creek Fire (ranked at #10).
In total, fires in California during 2020 have burned 3,472,947 acres as of the date of publishing this piece. The August Complex responsible for 809,135 acres, the SCU Lightning Complex burning 396,624 acres, and the LNU Lightning Complex burning 363,220 acres.
In addition to burning through over two million acres, these fires have caused the evacuation of roughly 64,000 people and impacted many more as smoke filled skies impacted air quality across the state.
Smog over the San Francisco sky. Photo courtesy of Claire Cole
With devastating impacts to many local communities, these fires have also had a huge impact on the agricultural world. California produces roughly 13 percent of the total cash agricultural receipts for the U.S., as well as being the sole producer of thirteen other foods including almonds, figs, olives, peaches, pistachios, sweet rice, and more. Many of these farms are located in areas that frequently see wildfires as well.
While these fires are just one year of disasters, climate scientists are predicting an increase in wildfires in the western US in the upcoming years due to climate change. These fires, if not managed correctly, could have a large impact on not just California but also the agricultural system of the United States.
Not only do the fires impact the food being grown on these farms, but they also impact the farmers and farmworkers who work tirelessly to put food on our shelves.
As we start to think about what the future of fires look like in California, here are some ways to make sure your farm is as prepared as possible for future large scale fires.
- The best way to be prepared is to have a plan. Make sure you have discussed with your family and employees what your fire evacuation plan will be. If you have livestock on your farm, make sure to consider these when creating your plan. Where will the livestock go? How will you transport them? For more help thinking of questions to ask and resources to have on hand check out the Department of Homeland Security’s resources.
- If you do have livestock, make sure to maintain accurate identification lists, including information about their health and physical characteristics.
- Make sure to have a “Go Bag” ready and encourage your employees to do the same. For tips on what to include in a “Go Bag,” check out SF Fire’s resources here.
- Follow strict Hay Precautions to avoid an easy target for fires to jump and catch. Make sure hay bales have proper ventilation and never get too hot.
- Acquire N95 Masks for yourself and employees in order to protect from hazardous air quality during fires. If you are in need of masks for your employees, check out our Marketplace here or here for some leads.
- After a fire has passed near your area, make sure to Test your Soil to be sure your soil is free from contaminants. In order for the tests to be accurate, make sure you are regularly testing your soil for a good pre/post assessment. For more information about soil testing, see the UCCE resource guide.
- After a fire, make sure you are improving and amending any soil to dilute any contaminants. This includes adding compost to your soil.
While these are all great small steps we can take to be prepared, we must begin to recognize that some of the largest things we can do to prevent wildfires is tackle our climate change issue. For agricultural practices, this can include shifting towards regenerative agriculture.
In a study by Christopher J. Rhodes, regenerative agriculture “has the effect of drawing down carbon from the atmosphere, while simultaneously improving soil structure and soil health, soil fertility and crop yields, water retention and aquifer recharge…”. You can learn more about regenerative agriculture by visiting Regeneration International. If you’re interested in finding funding to start building a more carbon neutral farming system, you can get funding through Restore California.
As we start adapting towards a new normal, we at iTrade hope to be able to assist with maintaining a strong and safe agricultural system. Learn more about how you can become resilient in any climate here.