Climate Change Drives Changing Farm Practices

Feb 17, 2014

As farmers gear up for another growing season, some are preparing for more extreme weather events, particularly flooding.

Resiliency in the face of climate change was one topic covered at the winter conference of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

John Hayden and his wife run The Farm Between on the Lamoille River in Jeffersonville.

The farm was flooded twice in 2011.  Hayden used to grow corn, pumpkins and beans. Now he’s planting perennial fruit trees and bushes, growing crops better suited to wetter conditions and changing cultivation practices.

“We’ve had some flash flooding events, too. We’ve had big streams of water coming off the hillsides,” Hayden says. "If we have freshly cultivated ground, it will just rip it up. We don’t do that anymore. Everything is in sod and no-till, and perennials in those areas that are susceptible to erosion.”

Changes in crops and farm practices were among the aspects of resiliency discussed at the NOFA conference at the University of Vermont.

As farmers gathered in small groups, other ideas emerged, like diversifying farm products, keeping detailed records to track climate trends, and forging strong social connections that can be drawn upon in times of need. 

Climate change is also on the minds of those who are looking to make farming their livelihood. Jen Miller grew vegetables on leased land at Burlington’s Intervale. Tropical Storm Irene put her out of business.

"The 'candy' of the river bottom soil is not necessarily worth the trade-off of the flooding if it continues to increase in frequency." - Farmer Jen Miller on the potential for increased flooding due to climate change.

She and her partner decided the risk of losing everything again was too great for them to stay at that location. She hopes to own a farm someday but she’ll chose a place where there’s less potential for flooding.

 “The ‘candy’ of the river bottom soil is not necessarily worth the trade-off of the flooding if it continues to increase in frequency,” Miller says.

Joshua Faulkner is one of the session’s organizers. Faulkner says it’s difficult for farmers to take time from day-to-day demands, but the need to plan for the weather of the future is critical.

“If they take one thing away it’s that, ‘I need to take a step back on my farm and think about the impacts of climate and start to look long term and to plan for that,'” says Faulkner.

Faulkner is the farming and climate change program coordinator at the UVM Center For Sustainable Agriculture.

The new position is an acknowledgement that long term climate trends are as much a part of farming as planning next season’s crop.