Ponderings on… THE DROUGHT OF 2012

I appreciate the polite interest in our company from those who are not very involved with all things hop and beer, but the single question that is really getting old is…”So, are you concerned about the drought affecting your crop?”

No.  Not at all.  What drought?

OF COURSE IT IS IMPACTING OUR CROP!  Jeez!

Okay…with the gripe out of the way, the observation is relevant.  But why such a drastic drought?  And what’s with the sudden heat?  This is just a fluke, right?  Climate change takes place on geologic time-scales, doesn’t it?

Believe me…I’m not a band-wagoner.  I ask pointed questions about generalized comments that usually gets me labeled as cynic, arrogant, etc.  But I think we all need to be a bit more critical of the “information” fed to us about the state of our homes and what happens within and around them.  But enough of the admonition.  

The facts is our climate is changing much more rapidly than previously expected and if you don’t believe it take a look at the rapid decline of sea ice in the arctic and Greenland Ice Sheet. (see National Snow and Ice Data Center: http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/).

Big freaking whoop.  What does less sea ice have to do with hop farming?  Literally it means the difference between commercial yields and withered plants.  How?  Sea ice and large ice sheets are a major factor in determining global weather patterns (since they are fresh water they can cause huge salinity shifts in ocean water which impacts ocean currents.  They also reflect a HUGE amount of solar radiation).  Okay…so the sea ice is melting and the glaciers are thinning out.  The sea is becoming less salty and ocean currents are fluctuating.  We knew this would happen based on the hotly debated data sets over the last 10-15 years.  

What we didn’t anticipate is the RATE at which this would happen.  In the last 2 years the globe has experienced the beginning of nearly every predicted change outlined in these data…except that it was to happen over the next 50-100 years.  

2 years.

So gang…ask yourselves how this impacts hop production again?  We are entering a potentially long period of unpredictable climate.  I like to call it “weather wackiness.”  And as farmers we must be acutely aware of how the weather impacts our BUSINESSES as well as our plants.  The wise farmer is taking stock of the recent weather over the last few years and strategizing for the future.  Unfortunately Big Ag (including some of our hop growing brethren) seems to be in denial (or just plain ignorant) to the fact that their production systems that have been in place for the last 75 years…which has been a very stable climatic period…will no longer be suited to the impending changes to the environment we will experience in the coming few years.  And based on the current data we can expect these changes to be much, much more acute than previously thought.

So how are we…the daring, audacious, trail-blazing farmers that we are, going to remain sustainable over the coming seasons?  Think about how ravenous hops are for water, let alone the debate over conventional vs organic.  Think about how some varieties we have planted cannot hack the heat.  These are the things that keep me awake at night and distracted during the day.

Those of you who know me understand that I’m not prone to panic and espouse the need for planning and execution.  So when these things are heavily impacting how I plan seasonal production prescriptions and yield expectations and keeping me awake at night over how long this crazy crop can keep up with Ma Nature in the Midwest you can take it to the bank that time for debate is over.

So, coming back to my initial gripe…Yes.  I am concerned about the drought affecting my crops.  But I think this is just the beginning and we have alot of work to do before it won’t matter.

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