The climate makes a difference to farmers, and according to Alissa White of the University of Vermont, farmers can make a difference in the climate.

White, an agroecology researcher, recently spoke about climate adaptation in a webinar hosted by the New Hampshire Food Alliance.

In New England, climate change will likely bring higher temperatures and more frequent droughts.

But one effect that farmers are already seeing is an increase in heavy downpours and flooding. Since 1958, White said, intense storms have increased by 71%.

Cornell researchers have found that drought and excess moisture are the leading causes of crop loss.

And elevated precipitation in the winter and spring could hasten soil erosion and nutrient runoff.

Some farmers are already changing their management strategies to deal with the ever-chancier weather.

White coordinates the New England Adaptation Survey, which polls vegetable and fruit growers from Canada to Pennsylvania.

About 200 people replied to the 77 questions about how they address severe precipitation patterns and what strategies they consider innovative and promising.

Building soil health and growing cover crops were the most popular practices, with three-quarters of farmers using them.

Crop rotation, green manure and hoop houses were some of the other top picks. A third of respondents used no-till or reduced tillage.

A farm’s topography affects which practices might be relevant. Raised beds that channel rainfall away from crops, perennial plantings and stormwater management can reduce flood risks, for example.

Some of the mulch users said they wished they didn’t have to use so much plastic.

In times of drought, strategies including water storage, soil health and mulching come in handy.

“No-till and soil health are considered among the most innovative and promising strategies,” White said.

Less than 10% of respondents said they were using crop insurance to manage for heavy rain or drought.

White counts climate change as a stressor on farmers right along with market stability, profitability concerns, generational transfer, labor, pests, disease and regulation.

“A farm’s ability to adapt is only as good as its ability to change for other stressors and pressures,” White said.

She thinks farmers technical knowledge, funding, and even confidence to cope with the changing climate.

“Do I have enough grit to continue to farm in the face of climate change? I think this is a really big thing. I think there’s a lot of anxiety,” White said.


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