Consider these things when looking for happy hours to celebrate National Margarita Day: The weather is changing and putting a new strain on the bat, the agave plant’s most important pollinator, the main ingredient in the delicious concoction.
According to the US Distilled Spirits Council, agave-based liquors like tequila and mezcal were the fastest-growing spirits category in 2022. It may even soon surpass vodka as the nation’s most popular alcoholic beverage, according to analysts.
However, scientists from all over the world have made it abundantly clear that food production will continue to be severely impacted by water shortages caused by climate change. Unfortunately, spirits and wine are included in that forecast as well. According to a 2019 study, the distribution and cultivation of agave, the main ingredient in tequila, may be disrupted by the climate crisis in conjunction with cattle ranching overgrazing and other human activities.
Omanjana Goswami, a food and environment scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, stated that the life cycle of agave is too fragile to endure the major weather whiplash the climate crisis is generating, including extreme drought and deadly storm deluges like the one that California recently experienced. Agave is a plant that is drought-tolerant and can thrive in hot weather with little to no water.
According to Goswami, who spoke with CNN, “Agave is a desert plant, so of course, anything that is moving toward that desert-like weather is going to help this crop thrive.” However, sadly, environment impacts are not straight. It does not imply that this will remain constant as temperatures rise.
She continued, “With extreme weather and unpredictability, it’s so hard to predict where this is going to go in the future.”
Agave pollinators: animals
In addition to the fact that agave plants are susceptible to weather whiplash, pollinators face a significant climate threat. About 30% of the food we eat is pollinated by bees, butterflies, and bats. Birds and bats are both regarded as major seed dispersers. However, these pollinators run the risk of major disruption as temperatures rise, the weather becomes more extreme, and the seasons change.
The Mexican long-nosed bat, a key species for tequila, is increasingly concerned about rising temperatures.
Ron Magill, Zoo Miami’s communications director and wildlife expert, previously stated to CNN, “You wouldn’t have tequila if you had no bats, because that’s the only thing that pollinates the agave plant that makes tequila.”
Tequila is produced by only one species of agave, the Weber Azul plant. There are hundreds of species of agave. In Mexico and the deserts of the Southwest United States, other species of agave were extinct. The spirit must originate from the Tequila region in Mexico in order to be considered authentic “tequila” by law. Otherwise, agave spirits cannot be marketed as agave liquors in states like California.
Scientists told CNN that farmers are prone to monoculture, in which the same soil is used to grow a single crop, due to the high demand for agave spirits. This results in a loss of genetic diversity, according to the scientists. This includes areas like California, where agave farmers do not rely on bats or other external pollinators to grow their crops.
However, some researchers, like Ron Runnebaum, an assistant professor of viticulture and enology at the University of California, Davis, want to learn more about that genetic diversity to see which variants, in addition to the blue agave, are able to adapt and survive in changing climates to prevent diversity loss.
“There are just a lot of questions around how we would be able to grow this economically as a crop for us, in the United States, and especially in California, as a way to diversify the portfolios of farmers, since they are facing water shortages, as well as these other extreme events such as extended droughts or an abundance of water in a short period of time,”
Agave plants don’t need a lot of water, so farmers can plant crops on land that wouldn’t have been used otherwise because there wasn’t enough water. Agave plants mature in six to eight years, but scientists say they can also remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.
Craig Reynolds, an agave grower and founding director of the California Agave Council, stated that he sees agave spirits as an economic opportunity in a hotter and drier future in light of these benefits and the West’s prolonged drought.
Reynolds began cultivating agave eight years ago as an experiment to determine whether it would be a viable crop in response to water scarcity.
He stated to CNN, “We’ve gotten a lot of attention because the biggest problem (for farmers) is the water.” According to him, the growing interest is brought on by “severe cutbacks and groundwater allowances in state and federal water project deliveries, as well as the fallowing of hundreds of thousands of acres in California and projected long-term fallowing of farmland.”
More money is being spent on studying the low-water crop’s viability, especially in light of the rapidly changing climate, thanks to UC Davis. Reynolds said ventures need to begin adjusting and pondering ways of making due in a more sizzling and drier future.
Reynolds stated, “There will be some failures and setbacks here and there.” I don’t think the climate will change. Agave is just one component of the adaptation strategy, but I’m just being realistic in the sense that while we must do everything in our power to halt climate change, we must also develop strategies for adapting to it.