Looking back at last year, I can’t recall another year where so much rain has fallen. I know I struggled with my own small food producing gardens and the challenges such as diseases that come with that much moisture. It made me wonder how last year’s weather had affected our farmers and what it may mean for our outlook with an ever-changing environment. Speaking to a few local farmers, many spoke of massive crop loss for tobacco which was affected by mold. Extreme challenges dealing with saturated fields, making some areas nearly inaccessible for weeks at a time was also a common concern. Crop insurance alleviated some of the impact, but certainly not all of it as labor costs continue to rise, as do chemical control costs and equipment maintenance. A question many may have is will this continue and does climate change play a part?
It’s important to understand, issues of climate change affect us regardless of our beliefs. Climate change is a natural process based on the flux of earth’s orbit, rotation, and tilt. However, the rate of change has increased exponentially since the industrial era, and its effects can be seen today in growing season length, precipitation rates, increase of plant pathogens and longer insect feeding and gestation seasons. These issues are directly affecting our farming community. The State of Connecticut has seen an increased temperature of almost three degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s. This is due in part to accumulations of CO2 in our atmosphere trapping heat. Additional warming increases duration of pathogens due to higher leaf wetness and canopy growth. Likewise, insect feeding and breeding increases dramatically as CO2 causes higher sugar content in leaves causing a stimulating effect in insects. Simultaneously, weeds become more robust causing herbicides to be less effective while higher heat causes additional stress on plants furthering disease and crop loss.
Meanwhile, this small increase in warmth is resulting in earlier snow melts, flooding, and increased precipitation. Across New England and Connecticut, average precipitation has increased by 10%, and the precipitation which occurs from extreme events has increased by 70% since the 1950s. However growing seasons have expanded. In the contiguous United States, the average length of the growing season has increased by over two weeks since the early 1900s. Longer growing seasons may mean that switching to other crops such as corn and soybeans versus crops that are highly affected by increased precipitation could be beneficial. Farmers may also need to be open to transgenic crops that are bred to deal with environmental and pest pressures. It’s also important that we as residents desiring to retain our farming heritage in town be aware of these issues and do what we can to reduce our own impacts. In doing so we can hope to be able to enjoy the beautiful rural landscape this town offers for generations to come.