Climate Change, Nature

Global Warming is Drenching the Northeast

Climate change has brought warmer, wetter weather to the Northeast, and that could have a catastrophic effect on farmers in the region.
Potatoes, one of the key cash crops in the Northeastern state of Maine, could be severely affected by warmer and wetter weather. Photo by Agence Producteurs Locaux Damien Kühn on Unsplash

Last week I wrote about how drought conditions in California, caused by climate change, are causing an increase in the number of wildfires there. But on the other side of the country, things are getting warmer and wetter, and that’s hurting farmers in lots of ways.

You might thing that longer growing seasons and a warming climate would benefit the Northeast, which historically has long, cold winters. However, the increasing amount of rain those warmer temperatures are causing has brought flooded fields and an increase in diseases.

For the past two decades, the Northeast has been getting warmer for longer periods of time, and, according to researchers at Cornell University, has experienced a 71 percent increase in the frequency of extreme precipitation events. That’s more than any other region in the U.S.

Heavy rainfall increases the likelihood that plants will develop diseases like potato late blight (potatoes are the number-one cash crop in Maine, so this is a big deal for farmers in that state) and fungal problems that stress carrots and other root vegetables.

“Heavy rains not only cause disease problems, but can prevent farmers from having access to the fields to plant in spring or harvest in fall,” said David Wolfe, a professor of plant and soil ecology at Cornell and senior author of the paper.

These extreme rainfall events are expected to continue through the current century, the researchers say.

Farmers’ profit hinges on reaching markets early, when their crops have the most value. Delayed planting due to wet spring soils can have severe negative effects on farmers’ finances. Although they could try planting fields when they’re wet, their heavy farm equipment will compact soil and decrease its ability to hold water, according to the researchers. This, of course, will result in diminishing crop yields.

However, the news isn’t all bad.

“Climate change can easily intensify agricultural susceptibility, but also presents fresh, surprising opportunities,” Wolfe said.

What those opportunities are, remains to be seen. But it’s increasingly clear that farmers all across the country—and all around the world—are going to have to adapt to the changing climate in their areas.

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