California farmers’ tequila dreams – POLITICO


DESPERATE TIMES — How bad is the drought in California? Bad enough to entice farmers to turn to tequila.

About 40 farmers and distillers gathered last week at an inaugural agave symposium at the University of California, Davis, to explore the prospects for growing agave in California and making it into alcohol. .

Stuart Woolfwho grows almonds, pistachios and tomatoes, has a 1.5-acre test plot of about 900 agave plants on his farm in the southwest of the Central Valley.

“Can we grow a bigger plant, with more sugar, with drip irrigation using just a little water? he asks. “More spirits distilled per acre than they can in Mexico?”

Agave is not an ideal crop – like vines and walnut trees, it takes many years to mature to the point where it can be harvested. And unlike grapes and nuts, once it’s harvested, that’s it – you have to plant a new one if you want more.

But it uses much less water than these crops. In Mexico, it is often not irrigated at all. Early estimates say agave in California can thrive with less than 1.5 inches of water per acre per year, compared to 48 inches for almonds. This could be a good harvest for areas that are taken out of production due to water shortages.

“It’s kind of the excitement, it’s a crop here that doesn’t usually need a lot of water,” said the UC Davis viticulture, wine and chemical engineering professor. Ron Runnebaum, who organized the one-day event. “We just need to figure out if we can do something similar in California, given our different growing conditions.”

It is a sign of the times. The latest drought is entering its third year, just after another that ended in 2016.

Farmers in the southern Central Valley are now used to receiving little or no water from the canal and reservoir system that was built to supply 3 million acres of farmland, but shortages are spreading farther north than usually affecting rice as well as trees and rows. harvests.

“I think when we look back to 2021 and 2022, we will determine that it was the two-year period that broke our water supply system, exposing all of its shortcomings,” said Mount Jeffreysenior researcher at the Water Policy Center of the Public Policy Institute of California.

Endangered species rules that the Trump administration approved to allow farmers to pump more water during wet periods are still in effect, but it’s too dry for them to apply. Last year’s Infrastructure Act provides billions of dollars for western water projects, but the biggest storage proposals have been stuck on the drawing board for decades. California farmers also face impending restrictions on groundwater pumping that could force half a million acres of non-production irrigated land.

All of these factors are driving interest in drought-tolerant crops like agave, especially as a way to add value to land already fallow due to lack of water.

“It’s about adaptation on some level,” Woolf said. “I’m not going to bet on the state to adapt and solve our problems. I prefer to make my own decisions to figure out how to do it.”

Be certain: All of this is very nascent. Woolf estimates that there are only about 40 acres of agave in California, and only 10 of them are old enough to harvest. Don’t bet on the agave yet.

“I’m supporting chickpeas myself,” said UC Davis agricultural economist Dan Sumner. “I love them, and they don’t use a lot of water and they have a lot of attributes, but they won’t be the next pistachio, which is a billion dollar crop. I suspect agave won’t won’t be the next billion dollar raise, either, but I could be wrong.”

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ESG UNDER FIRE — Green investing is taking a beating from Republicans — and Wall Street is dovish, reports Adam Aton for POLITICO’s E&E News.

Some of the world’s largest financial firms — including JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. — assured Texas officials this month that they support fossil fuels, according to documents Adam obtained in under state open archive laws.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar in March asked 19 financial firms for information on whether they were boycotting fossil fuel companies. Most responded by saying they remained committed to investing in fossil fuels – with some companies detailing millions of dollars of specific projects they are funding.

The letters illustrate the cross-currents Wall Street faces as it tries to make money from all sides of the energy transition.

Credit Suisse Group AG, for example, wrote that “we remain a committed lender to the oil and gas sector and are actively engaging with our clients in their transition efforts.”

But, the investment bank wrote, it is also obligated to strive for net-zero emissions – otherwise “there could be negative business or financial consequences to reputation or others.”

Adam has more of the story here.

POWER INCREASE — It’s a Gordian knot: the extreme weather we’re trying to avoid by reducing emissions from the electricity sector threatens in itself to derail progress on clean energy.

Texas, the West and the Midwest are bracing for potentially dangerous and costly power outages this summer due to extreme weather and volatile gas prices – but regulators are divided on how to keep power going now and in the summers to come, as POLITICO’s Catherine Morehouse reports.

The answer is reliably politicized, with Republicans appointed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission arguing for a slower transition to clean energy, while Democrats point out that hot weather will disrupt all types of power plants.

Another episode like the blackouts in Texas last year or California in 2020 – whatever the cause – will further weaken confidence in building a carbon-free grid, although decarbonization is essential for mitigate even worse extreme weather events, said Daniel BrooksVice President of Integrated Grid and Energy Systems at the Electric Power Research Institute.

“The biggest concern is that you have another large-scale event that erodes the trust of society and the power sector as the foundation for decarbonization,” he said.

Learn more about Catherine here.

CAUSE OF TECHNO-PESSIMISM — Iowa agribusiness magnate Bruce Rastetter wants to capture carbon from ethanol plants in the Midwest and funnel it to North Dakota to be permanently sequestered underground. Sounds like a potential fix, right?

As Ariel Wittenberg reports for POLITICO’s E&E News, he’s being pushed back not just by environmentalists who argue that carbon capture helps sustain coal, oil, natural gas and some biofuels like ethanol that should be on their way to extinction due to their climate-warming emissions.

Farmers who own the land above the proposed pipeline routes are also angry, citing environmental concerns and opposition to the seizure of their land.

Growing on-the-ground resistance to the project is a warning sign: pipelines, power lines, offshore wind farms, and anything else that can power a future low-carbon economy — it’s all hard to build in America.

Read more about Ariel here.

– Is the The Gulf of Mexico finally ready for offshore wind? POLITICO’s Kelsey Tamborrino looked favorable winds in the region.

— German Police raided Deutsche Bank and its subsidiary DWS on greenwashing allegationsreports the Financial Times.

— A protester slice of cake on the Mona Lisa draw attention to theEarth’s environmental distress.

— Climate monitoring organizations are warning that the The World Cup in Qatar will not be carbon neutral, despite FIFA’s claims. Color us shocked. Bloomberg is on it.


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