The Science of Sustainability

Heat and Harvest – the documentary

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Like what you see in the supermarket produce section? Enjoy, because things may be changing there – the prices, even the mix of available fruits, nuts and veggies. Long acknowledged as "the nation's salad bowl," California's farm belt is facing some thorny challenges from our changing climate: rising temperatures, an uncertain water supply and more abundant pests that threaten multi-billion-dollar crops. The half-hour documentary Heat and Harvest, a co-production of KQED and the Center for Investigative Reporting, examines these threats and some potential solutions.

Cherries need a certain number of "chilling hours" to bloom evenly. Photo: Center for Investigative Reporting.

The first story in the program, Uncool Cherries, looks at the challenges facing cherry growers near Stockton. Life is hardly a bowl of cherries if you're trying to grow them in California lately. Cherries and other major fruit crops need a certain number of "chilling hours" in order to produce healthy blossoms and fruit. But in recent years, the spring nights have brought warmer temperatures and less of the legendary Valley fog that helps keep the chill on. (Reporter: Mark Schapiro / Producer: Serene Fang)

Almond plants damaged by salt in the groundwater, which burned their leaves. Photo: Center for Investigative Reporting.

The second story, Dry and Salted, examines the major wildcards in California's farming future: water and salt. Growers are having to learn to get along with less of the first and more of the second. That can mean leaving once-productive fields fallow or having to find less water-intensive crops and irrigation methods. But water quality is also presenting a challenge as growers find themselves having to cope with salt in their groundwater and the threat of encroaching saltwater from rising seas. (Reporter: Mark Schapiro / Producer: Serene Fang)

Scientists believe that warmer winters have made the potato-tomato psyllid, which damages 40 crops, more abundant in California. Photo: Gary McDonald.

Heat and Harvest ends with Some Bugs Like it Hot: Climate Change and Agricultural Pests, a look at how climate change is making agricultural pests more abundant in the state’s fields. A tiny insect that didn’t used to pose a problem for California farmers is now transmitting a disease that damages potato chips and threatens the state’s tomato crop. Are more pesticides the answer? We talk to farmers and scientists to see what's being done to meet the challenge. (Producer: Gabriela Quirós / Program Host & Reporter: Craig Miller)

Play our water quiz and guess what California crop needs the most water.

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Category: Climate, Environment, Food, Sustainable Food, Television, Video

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Gabriela Quirós

About the Author ()

Gabriela Quirós is a TV Producer for KQED Science & Environment. She started her journalism career in 1993 as a newspaper reporter in Costa Rica, where she grew up. She won two national reporting awards there for series on C-sections and organic agriculture, and developed a life-long interest in health reporting. She moved to the Bay Area in 1996 to study documentary filmmaking at the University of California-Berkeley, where she received master’s degrees in journalism and Latin American studies. She joined KQED as a TV producer when QUEST started in 2006 and has covered everything from Alzheimer’s to bee die-offs to dark energy. She has shared two regional Emmys, and four of her stories have been nominated for the award as well. Independent from her work on QUEST, she produced and directed the hour-long documentary Beautiful Sin for PBS, about the surprising story of how Costa Rica became the only country in the world to outlaw in-vitro fertilization.
  • Latha

    Just saw your very interesting and thought provoking show. Thank you. I'm going to share with both friends who garden and some involved in ag and water issues.

  • Gabriela Quiros – Producer

    Excellent. Thank you for sharing!

  • geoffj4

    Great Documentary! Thank you.

  • Jim Robaft

    We need to start switching over to drought tolerant crops. It is crazy to try to grow rice and other high water crops here now. We need to plant aloe vera and other species that can handle intense Central Valley sun and basically no water.
    Moreover, the more we grow and produce, the more we wipe out the other 10 million species on the planet, impact the environment, and ultimately hurt ourselves. There are still way too many of us, and we are way to consumptive. I recently finished reading Humans Need Three Hands, and that novel really opened my eyes to the idea of Homocentrism: The fact that people only care about and focus on human needs. Great book for people who care about being part of the environment; not being above it.