Agricultural impacts of UVM climate study

The UVM climate plan was released just two weeks ago, and it shows how various industries will be hurt by a changing climate.
Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 8:40 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The University of Vermont climate plan was released just two weeks ago, and it shows how various industries will be hurt by a changing climate. But what about the impacts from an agricultural standpoint?

The biggest takeaways are the changes are happening now, and while there will be a few positive things that come from a warmer Vermont - like a longer growing season - there are also lots of threats to agriculture as we know it.

UVM’s climate report made two things clear, farmers will have to get used to warmer and wetter weather.

“Variability is going to increase in weather and unpredictability is going to continue to increase,” said Joshua Faulkner with UVM Extension.

While about nine more days each decade without freezing temperatures could offer up new opportunities for new crops, an increase of almost seven inches of annual rain since the 1960s doesn’t make farming easy.

Faulkner says moving livestock or tending to crops will get more difficult.

“That’s really difficult for farmers who depend upon some level of predictability,” said Faulkner.

Added rain could mean more frustrating mud seasons, according to the report. Whether it’s rainfall or freezes, Faulkner says a lot is up in the air.

“There is no normal May, there is no normal September for harvesting, all bets are kind of off,” said Faulkner.

“Locally what can we do here in Vermont to leverage farms,” said Ryan Patch with the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.

Director of Water Quality Patch says the findings didn’t catch him or the council off guard.

He says 94% of the state is working lands, 12% of that is agriculture.

So now with updated findings on the impact of climate change, it becomes about how to use that farmland to help fight back.

“Vermont farmers are motivated to be part of the climate change solution and many are already climate mitigation as a goal in managing their farms,” said Patch.

What it comes down to is cost.

Patch says because farmers are vulnerable, they will adapt.

Of 64 Vermont farmers that responded to a New England Adaptation survey, 65% have already made changes due to an experience with drought, and 77% have made changes due to experience with flooding.

Patch says something as simple as soil health, for example, can be a start for everyone.

“Healthy soils are good across the board whether it be water quality, or from a number of different perspectives with regards to climate change. Whether it’s mitigation, adaptation or resilience, a healthy soil can better withstand more rain and less rain,” said Patch.

But it also says farmers tell them they don’t have the skills or money to fully invest in what they need to do to address the risk of climate change.

But Faulkner says if we take climate change seriously and set a good plan, Vermont still has a bright future.

“If we can, I think agriculture in the future looks very bright because we will have that key resource of water in the future,” said Faulkner.

Other impacts include pest control issues, food systems and seed systems.

That climate council initial report that’s offering more solutions is due on Dec. 1.

Related story:

Climate study: Vermont getting warmer, wetter

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