Climate change impacts on agriculture have been increasing in the Northeast. Soil erosion, wet fields, and flooding due to increasing heavy downpours are just some of the many climate impacts that farmers face.
Shifting seasons, drought, and increased pest pressure have also been identified as climate-related concerns. With profit margins already tight, these impacts could affect farm viability.
“Last year we had seven inches of rain in 24 hours, and it flooded one of our vineyards… the creek came through and flooded one of our vineyards right out.” – New York Grape Grower
“We’ve experienced a lot of different things. You know, from drought, to in like 2011, we had 400 acres of corn underwater because of extreme moisture, and the river came out at the banks” – Pennsylvania Field Crops Farmer
A recent study conducted by the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions and Pennsylvania State University, in collaboration with Cooperative Extension, used data from six farmer focus groups in New York and Pennsylvania to examine:
- How farmers perceive climate impacts on their farms
- What practices they are willing to adopt on their farms
- How perceived risks and vulnerability affect farmers’ decision-making related to adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Many farmers from these focus groups voiced concern about climate impacts, but they also expressed skepticism towards human-caused climate change. Through these focus groups, it became clear that other business pressures such as labor, profitability, market conditions, and regulations out-weighed climate change concerns in their decision-making.
“Well the changes we’ve made have not been because of climate change as per se, but for economic reasons…” – New York Vegetable Farmer
Still other farmers were more open to the possibility that recent climate change is human-caused. Though not overly concerned, they nonetheless indicated that their on-farm management decisions should be informed by sound understanding of the causes of climate change.
“My personal feeling is that our climate is changing. I’m less alarmist than many, but understanding more why and how may help us make better decisions for the future.” – Pennsylvania Tree Fruit Farmer
In summary, the farmers who participated in this study recognized and discussed their increased vulnerability under a changing climate. However, their non-climate concerns appeared to limit their willingness to consider climate adaptation practices and mitigation actions. They were more likely to take action if they perceived it would financially benefit them. Farmers are willing to adapt, but adaptation practices need to make economic sense first and foremost. These findings also help understand farmers’ priorities and needs, which can help guide efforts to develop and coordinate broad strategies to address climate change impacts on agriculture within the region.
Climate Change and Agriculture in New York and Pennsylvania (Lane et al., 2018) is a new research paper in a special issue of Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems dedicated to Ag/Food Systems and Climate Change.
By David Earl Lane and Sarah Jane Ficken, Cornell University