Environment Kitchen Garden

Adapting to Climate Change

Conference Welcome
Conference Welcome

RURAL CEDAR COUNTY— On a tour of an organic farm in Cedar County yesterday, talk turned to the impact recent unusual and severe weather events we have had. The story is similar to what others in the agricultural community have been saying.

Farmers are talking about two main weather events this year. The late, wet spring that delayed planting, and drought conditions during August and September. According to a recent gathering at the Farm Bureau, there will be more of the same during the next several years.

The late, wet spring caused some localized flooding on the property, but did not significantly impact the overall operations. They dealt with the weather. The apple crop was abundant because spring pollination conditions were almost perfect after a tough 2012, with the buds flowering after the last hard frost. A lot of apples were still on some of the trees.

Locally we lived through a period of six weeks without any rain. The effects of the summer drought on the vegetable crop were mitigated by irrigation using a drip tape system. There was plenty of water for irrigation, although like most farmers, he didn’t know how deep his well was dug. There was a farm pond should the well go dry.

Drought will reduce corn yield. We examined some ears on the stalk, and a second ear failed to form on many of them. What ears of corn were present did not fill out with kernels. Both conditions were attributable to the drought.

For the last several years, the ability to harvest vegetables later into the year exists because it was warmer later. Food can be harvested directly from the field, rather than drawn from storage and preserves during November and into December. My tour guide said he had only just begun to realize the persistent change, and was beginning to rethink his food planning for the 80 or so people who rely upon the farm for daily meals.

Farmers, more than most people, are sensitive to changes in the weather and climate. For 10,000 years the climate on earth has been stable, and this stability enabled the rise of agriculture, and along with it, our civilization. In Iowa, agricultural success is predicated on our assumptions about rainfall and the hydrological cycle. Things are changing, and what I saw yesterday is more evidence of that.

The era of climate stability is at an end, due largely to human activity. We continue to dump 90 million tons of CO2 pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere each day as if it were an open sewer. Without action on our part, adaptations like those on this farm will be ineffective over the long term. Whatever we were used to as normal has been disrupted by changing climate.

It may be evident to a farmer that the ecology of agriculture is changing in new ways. Yesterday’s farm tour was another example of why. Taking collective action to mitigate the causes of climate change has become the moral challenge of our time. We didn’t ask for this, but our personal involvement is as important as it has ever been as we work to sustain our lives in a turbulent world.