It seems that more challenges are facing all sectors of agriculture today, no matter which way you turn. And climate change is one of those buzzword phrases that get farmers talking – and thinking.
While climate change may seem uncontrollable, Cornell University is working to help farmers get a handle on how to face some of those weather-related challenges.
During a “twilight talk” meeting at Mosher Farms in Bouckville, NY, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Madison County provided some insight on methods helping to cope with the Northeast’s changing environment.
In a program presented by Tyler Brewer, Cornell University, Environmental and Sustainability Sciences, CALS, the concept of “Climate Smart Farming” was explained.
“Climate Smart Farming is increasing farm resiliency to extreme weather events, climate variability and change through assessing risk and adopting best management practices,” said Brewer.
Increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and operating costs while utilizing best management practices is a segment of the plan, with a goal to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and farmer incomes so to contribute to regional and global food security.
Downpours and heavy rainfall events have increased more than 71 percent in the northeast, resulting in delayed planting in spring and lost crops in autumn.
Research shows that 95 percent of farmers surveyed in New York State reported negative impacts from heavy rains in 2017 that are attributed to climate change.
Brewer said these heavy rains are expected to increase in intensity and the storms are predicted to increase in size in coming months. Prolonged spiking of elevations in heat and heat indexes are also expected. These extremes in climate variability will bring challenges of heat stress, flooding and/or drought and serious increases in plant disease, weeds and insects. This will have a serious impact on livestock, crops and changes in soil.
Assessing possible risks to your farm from these severe weather changes and forming a plan to apply risk mitigation practices are first steps to take with climate smart farming.
Dr. Allison Chatrchyan, director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions/Senior Research Associate, Departments of Development Sociology and Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, attended the Twilight Talk with a presentation on climate smart farming practices.
“The farmers that we talk to realize the climate is changing and they are experiencing it firsthand,” Chatrchyan explained. “The normal seasons are no longer normal.”
Chatrchyan described various adaptions that may be modified on farms to accommodate changing weather including infrastructure changes.
Many farmers have reported that they needed to make changes accommodating the torrential rainfall, especially in relation to drainage infrastructure and manure management. Since many farmers don’t know what to expect, they are not prepared when extreme rain and heat events occur.
Sarah Ficken, Agriculture Subject Educator for CCE, Madison County/Cornell’s Climate Smart Farming Extension Team Dairy and Farm Planning Consultant, remarked that because all farms are different, each should have a plan to meet their specific adaption requirements.
“Climate smart adaptations have the potential to improve a farmer’s bottom line and increase productivity. These adaptations vary widely and many farms have already begun to adopt practices like cover cropping, no-till planting and improved barn ventilation,” she said.
However, once your plan has been implemented, monitoring it is key.
“It has to be profitable,” Ficken remarked.
Kevin Ganoe, CNY CCE Field Crop Specialist, spoke to attendees about how climate change is impacting northeast crops with planting and harvesting dates, losses in crop yields and increases in pests, such as alfalfa weevil, and disease.
“More precipitation is occurring in heavy rainfall events, with more than two inches in 48 hours. This trend is expected to continue,” he said. Ganoe added to expect more runoff and erosion and nutrient loss. Nitrogen will be impacted by heavy rainfall, likely requiring that soil and plants will need to be tested more frequently and adequate nitrogen will need to be applied to crops to replace what was lost, reduced tillage helps to retain nutrients.
Scouting crops for disease and insects will be required more than ever.
Ganoe said to look closely at the growing degree days required for your crops, as they will also be impacted by changes in temperature.
“How many growing degree days do we need until harvest?” he asked, explaining that farmers are asking him for answers.
Corey Mosher told attendees how modifications and adaptions in crop rotation and inter-seeding has benefited soil health at Mosher Farms. He said best management practices have helped maximize profits while reducing nutrient losses, improving soil health and reducing fertilizer runoff.
He provided a haywagon ride with a tour of some of the farm fields, explaining his inter-seeding modification methods and also pointed out wind turbines providing “clean, renewable energy.”
Education, along with training, field implementation and monitoring on Climate Smart Farming (CSF) is priority with the CSF team. Ganoe gave a demonstration of how information and “tools” are easily accessible through a continually updated website provided by Cornell’s CSF program. This website provides calculations of growing degree days, drought information, rainfall requirements and other tools farmers may use in helping them adapt to the changing climate. Cover crop planting schedules are another tool available on the site.
“Cover crops are definitely something farmers can use as a climate smart farming practice,” said Brewer. “They are a perfectly good option for many farmers. They help maintain soil health and prevent erosion during heavy rainfall events.”
Brewer said farmers should keep an open mind about climate change and adapting to the weather changes to be profitable.
“I would say the most important thing is for farmers to be open to making changes on their farm. It is important to be willing to adapt to changes in weather and climate in order to keep farm operations running smoothly. As long as farmers are making adaptations and striving to improve, progress can be made!”