In the crush of recent articles about California’s drought, a number of op-eds featuring big ideas have appeared. Journalist Tom Philpott (@tomphilpott) – he writes for Mother Jones – has penned an opinion piece for The New York Times that offers some interesting ideas. Philpott suggests we consider the (re)diversification of Midwest cropping patterns. (Philpott calls this process “de-California-cation”).
But Americans needn’t cross their fingers and wait for our dominant garden patch to sort out its irrigation conundrums. The time has come for what I call the de-California-cation of the U.S. table. With its Mediterranean climate and endowment of rich soils, the state will always be an agriculture powerhouse. But need it provide 81 percent of U.S.-grown carrots, 95 percent of broccoli, 86 percent of cauliflower, 74 percent of raspberries, 91 percent of strawberries and on and on? (See the pdf link to the 2013/14 Agricultural Statistics Review here.)
A 2010 Iowa State University study found that by moving just 270,000 acres of land (equivalent in size to a typical Iowa county) from corn and soybeans to veggies, farmers in the relatively water-rich Midwest could supply everyone in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin with half of their annual tomatoes, strawberries, apples and onions, and a quarter of their kale, cucumbers and lettuce. As The New York Times reported last year, Midwest farmers are already experimenting with such a switch, converting a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of acres devoted to corn to crops that actually feed people. Now there’s a thought.