Following a historic drought that wiped out crops from the High Plains to South Texas, a new Texas Department of Agriculture report released Tuesday links climate change to food insecurity and identifies it as a potential threat to the state’s food supply.
A food access study coordinated by the TDA and the University of Texas at the Rio Grande Valley notes that “climate instability” is closely linked to soil loss, water quality, droughts, fires, floods, and other environmental disasters.
2022 was one of the driest years on record for Texas, with about 49% of the state still in drought conditions at the end of December. The drought has resulted in crop failures, low yields for farmers and a reduction in livestock grazing, forcing ranchers to cull their livestock and resulting in the largest number of livestock sold – nearly 2.7 million – in more than a decade.
“From an agricultural perspective, concerns have been raised about drought, drying up of artisanal wells, restrictions on water use, the threat of fire, and dangerous conditions for agricultural workers,” the report says.
Extended dry spells have hurt Texas’ agricultural production, said Victor Murphy, climate service program manager for the National Weather Service.
“We are seeing longer periods without any precipitation, and when it does, shorter and more intense bursts,” he said.
Overall, Texas received the same amount of rainfall in 2022 as it did in 2021, but most of that rainfall came immediately in late summer.
Much of the state experienced the worst drought conditions from June to August, during the summer heatwave while plants were still growing. This contrasted sharply with the amount of heavy rainfall that followed. In late August, the Dallas-Fort Worth area was hit by a 1,000-year-old flood that dropped 13 inches of rain in 18 hours.
“It is very difficult to be a grower to get high and consistent yields in such extreme weather conditions,” Murphy said. “It is extremely difficult to prepare for a precipitation regime that includes long periods of near-zero precipitation and short periods of extreme precipitation.”
The report recommends several actions, including engaging farmers to work alongside researchers and policy makers, creating more food forests that allow trees to restore soil health and improve water quality, and strengthen links between local farmers and businesses to develop infrastructure “from farm to school.
Food availability and living wage
The report, which was presented to the Texas Legislature on Dec. 31, also cited other factors that make it difficult for Texans to access food, such as wages lagging behind rising living costs and lack of access to food in rural areas. areas. Another problem is that organizations are not aware of other organizations with similar goals; for example, the report notes that some grocers are interested in expanding delivery services to rural markets, while several food banks have purchased trucks to do the same.
The study includes proposals that lawmakers could consider to help more Texans have consistent access to food, such as expanding online and delivery options for Extra Nutrition Assistance program members and allowing more stores to accept these benefits.
Lawmakers have already submitted several bills to address food insecurity during this year’s legislative session. State Rep. Sean Thierry, D-Houston, filed Bill 1118, which offers tax credits to grocery stores opening in food deserts.
The report also recommends raising the minimum wage, citing MIT’s cost of living model, which estimates the hourly rate people must earn to support themselves and their families in each state. In a Texas family with two parents and a child, each adult must earn $17.44 an hour to meet their basic needs, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 an hour.
According to the report, achieving a living wage draws a line between “the financial independence of the working poor and the need to seek public assistance or suffer permanent and severe lack of shelter and food.”
The report acknowledges that wage increases are an active and politicized topic.
“The important takeaway here is that there is a significant gap that needs to be addressed between what researchers think is the Texas cost of living, the wages that Texans actually receive, and the many poverty thresholds that determine eligibility for aid programs. “, the message says.
The report also highlights that many families’ incomes have remained the same while they have to spend more on food, housing and utilities.
In 2021, 13.7% of Texas households experienced food insecurity, the sixth-highest rate in the nation.
Nearly 79% of Texas Supplemental Food Assistance Program participants were families with children, and more than 27% of them were families with seniors and adults with disabilities, according to the 2021 Center for Budget and Policy Priorities Report.