California is experiencing an unprecedented drought, with dire implications for Canada’s fruit and vegetable supply. "We must build year-round capacity for fruit and vegetable production if we are to maintain our food security. The situation is urgent; California has declared a state of emergency as temperatures have crested into the upper 40s and low 50s, temperatures far above the point at which even well-irrigated crops begin to die," Lenore Newman and Evan Fraser write in The Province.
With unimaginable heat comes drought. The Colorado River and the reservoir behind the Hoover Dam are at record lows. Much of the last 10 years have seen the region in near-continuous drought, and the long-term projections suggest that things are going to get worse. California is often called America’s garden state. Their $50-billion-a-year agriculture industry supplies much of North America with fruit and vegetables. Canada is a major customer, and for much of the year we are completely dependent on California for the fruits and vegetables that make up a healthy diet.
Candada's reliance on California’s bounty is also part of the larger environmental problem. Every time we buy a head of lettuce from the Golden State, we are diverting precious water. Lettuce is 95 percent water by weight and a strawberry is 91 percent water. Emerging as one of the world’s fruits and vegetable powerhouses in the mid-20th century, Californian farmers are in effect operating a water export business. For all their ingenuity and hard work, they have managed to seriously deplete the state’s reservoirs.
As we look forward to the 21st century, we need to find a different system. If Canada wants to be food secure and maintain any food sovereignty, if we want to control the price and availability of a healthy diet, and if we want to make the environmentally sound choice, we need to fix this problem. We need to reduce our dependency on California.
British Columbia could be a powerhouse of indoor growing. Recent advances in automation, hardier varieties of fruits and vegetables, new LED lighting systems, and better-quality sensors that measure temperature and moisture in farms provide important tools to fruit and vegetable producers in our country. In Ontario, greenhouses are churning out high-quality strawberries 11 months of the year. On the West Coast, vertical farming companies are proving to be a reliable supplier for quality salad greens and other leafy vegetables. We have a wealth of renewable energy, abundant water, and technical expertise. These technologies represent a continuum of approaches that give producers immeasurably better ability to control environmental variables. From low-tech solutions such as covering seedlings with mulch to protect them from the frost to greenhouses that combine sunlight with LEDs in the winter, through to fully-fledged vertical farms where produce is tended by autonomous systems year-round, we are on the cusp of a transformation of fruit and vegetable production.
Read the complete article at www.theprovince.com.