Although climate change means hard days ahead for many industries, it can feel especially unfair to those trying to run a farm. Learning the ins and outs of your local weather patterns is already hard enough for farmers. A lifetime’s work, really.
And now climate change is coming along to mess it all up. (Though, to be fair, agriculture also contributes substantially to climate change. But, that’s a topic for a different article.)
So, what does climate change mean for the average small-scale farmer or homesteader? And what can you do now to start preparing your farm? Here are some suggestions for how to think about what climate change might mean for you and your farm.
As with any problem, preparedness begins by knowing what you’re up against. The impacts of climate change will be different across the country, so research what future weather patterns will look like in your area.
There are many climate change models out there, but the EPA’s Climate Resilience, Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT) is one of the most intuitive. The tool allows you to look at different emissions scenarios and their impacts on things like extreme heat, precipitation and storms.
Once you have a sense of what the impacts are expected to be, start to plan for how you’ll adjust to them.
Is severe rainfall and flooding going to become more common? Maybe now’s the time to start thinking about how to improve drainage around your fields.
Are droughts predicted to become more frequent? There’s no time like the present to start researching irrigation options.
Beyond developing your own ideas for how to adapt your farm, working collaboratively with other local growers can help to generate more ideas.
Maybe your local growers association is hosting a panel discussion or series of talks on the subject. If not, suggest that they put on one. Since the impacts of climate change are localized, the solutions will be as well.
Check for Funding
In many cases, adapting to changing weather patterns will require new infrastructure. And infrastructure is never cheap.
You might, for instance, need to run electricity to a high tunnel so that you can ventilate it during a heat wave. Or, maybe you’ll need to build hoophouses to protect more of your crops from severe weather events.
There are a variety of sources that will fund climate adaptation for farmers. Some states have programs to fund agricultural adaptations, and a variety of private foundations offer funding as well. Research what’s available in your area.
Begin to Experiment
With weather patterns already changing, one of the best ways to start adapting your farm is by experimenting with different ideas. Try to find crops or varieties that will be better adapted to your new growing conditions. Or, maybe you have some ideas about how to keep portions of your fields cool during the height of the heat (like planting hedgerows or installing overhead irrigation).
As you begin to experiment, take it slow and make sure not to overcommit. Grow modest amounts of new varieties to test their viability, and set aside small plots to experiment with new techniques.
Remember, experimenting now allows you to lower the stakes.
Climate change is already posing challenges for growers across the country. And with more changes expected, now’s the time to take adaptation seriously on your farm.