Local farmers highlight crop issues related to climate change

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TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY—Tompkins Food Forecast hosted a documentary screening and panel discussion last week, focusing on how farmers in the immediate area are adapting to climate change.

The mini-documentary Our farmers on the move: adapting to climate changediscusses the challenges farmers face regarding particularly wet growing seasons as well as the importance of cover crops and rotation for soil health.

In recent years, crops across the state have been reduced and heavy rains in previous summers have resulted in saturated land that does not lend itself to good growing seasons.

Thor Oechsner from Oechsner Farms in Newfield, New York, is one of the farmers featured in doc. Oechsner grows corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, clover and buckwheat, and Thor said he’s noticed the weather is getting more extreme. Last year, he said, the farm lost most of its soybean crops to waterlogging.

To help improve the health of soils threatened by particularly wet conditions, Thor said, the farm does minimal tillage and reintegrates organic matter into the soil, including straw, which costs about $50,000 a year but improves soil quality.

Anne Derousie and Karel Titus from Adventureland Farm use grass pastures for their livestock, which they say allows greater flexibility in the face of weather challenges. Thinking of it as a “grass farm,” they can adjust where animals graze based on weather and growth conditions.

Lakeview Organic Grain‘s Klass Martens said farmers’ biggest concern is the unpredictability of the weather. Lakeview has tried to mitigate the risks by expanding the range of crops it grows and being more innovative and flexible in how the ground is covered. “Climate change is both a threat and an opportunity,” Martens said.

Following the screening, Community Food System Plan Coordinator Katie Hallas gave a presentation on the importance of creating a better food system in Tompkins County. According to his presentation, food systems account for ⅓ of greenhouse gas emissions, and the average Tompkins County household spends $8,556 a year on food. In the county, 11.9% of adults and 13.6% of children face food insecurity.

Hallas also spoke about the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in New York State and its goal of reducing emissions by 40% by 2030 and 85% by 2050.

Another panelist, Graham Savio, agriculture and horticulture issues manager at Cornell Cooperative Extension, discussed the projections and implications for southern food production.

He said that there is an increase in rainfall and the adverse consequences of this increase include direct damage to crops from flooding, loss of nutrients and sediment in runoff during flooding and delays in the access to fields which increase agricultural costs.

Additionally, “higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels can potentially increase the growth and yield of many crops under optimal conditions,” Savio said. “Research has shown that many aggressive weed species benefit more than commercial crops and that weeds also become more resistant to herbicides at higher carbon dioxide concentrations.”

Recommendations from Savio’s presentation suggest things like shifting planting for annual crops, exploring new crop varieties with better drought and heat tolerances, double cropping openings, increased monitoring pests and diseases and exploring renewable energy markets.

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