Farmers just beginning to get the attention they deserve as they wrestle with the climate crisis

Farmers are the nation’s frontline of dealing with the climate crisis. Of course the storms that displace people and destroy structures, flora, and fauna are disastrous but having enough food and water are more immediate. Some attention is being paid to ensuring a fresh water supply (not enough) but the problems of farmers are not getting enough attention soon enough.

The changes in maximum/minimum temperatures, droughts, and more are affecting what farmers can plant and the crop yields they can expect on a seasonal basis. What works one year is almost certain not to be effective the next year. These are not problems that can be solved by farmers individually. They need technical help, financial help, and education if they are to be able to continue supplying us with the food we expect them to produce.

Many farmers feel unprepared for increasingly extreme weather

Fruit and vegetable growers in the Northeast say they lack the skills and money to cope with drought and record rainfall.

When too much rain falls on farm fields, crops can rot, and the soil can wash away. But with too little rain, the plants can wilt. In the northeast U.S., both of these extremes are becoming more common.

For example, in 2018, Pennsylvania had its wettest summer on record.

“And then at the same time, in September, it was like drought conditions in Vermont and parts of Maine,” says Alissa White of the University of Vermont. “We’re just expected to see more of that.”

White led a survey of almost 200 fruit and vegetable growers about how they’re adapting to these extreme weather events.

She says many are now planting cover crops, which can reduce erosion and help the soil hold more water. Others are experimenting with new plant varieties or tilling the soil less.

“Farmers are using a lot of different strategies,” she says.

Yet the majority of growers still feel unprepared for the increasingly extreme weather. Many say they do not have the technical skills or the financial resources to adapt.

So White says that farmers need education, technical assistance, and financial support as they work to keep their crops – and businesses – growing.

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