Climate Corner: Unpredictable Weather

by Kathleen Smythe

“It is unpredictable!” is one of the phrases I heard farmers at our Ohio market use to describe the weather these days. Global climate change is impacting their efforts to grow plants and animals for our consumption. It is hard to follow plans and schedules to ensure high quality and quantity when the weather, both temperature and rainfall, vary significantly beyond what we have come to accept as normal boundaries within and between seasons. High tunnels and greenhouses become more attractive as the climate destabilizes, for they provide some control over weather conditions.

There were other themes as well. This spring, as we all know, has been unusually wet and cold. Both have their impacts and challenges. Too much rain, particularly in heavy amounts, as has been the case the last five to 10 years, threatens both vegetable quality and viability. Too much rain at once collects in the soil and does not drain off as quickly, leading to rot and spoilage. Heavy downpours throw up soil with disease-causing microbes that can weaken or destroy plants.

At many farms in our part of the country, instead of worrying mostly about getting enough water to plants, the concern now is how to ensure that it drains away.

The cold and mud has delayed farmers’ ability to get vegetable plants and seeds in the ground as they cannot work in the fields in such conditions. Because they cannot get in the fields, high growing tunnels and greenhouses are filling up with starting plants that should be out by now, leaving no room to start other vegetables in these protected spaces. Cows and sheep were unable to find enough grass this April as its growth had been significantly delayed by the cold weather.

One farmer told me their cows are breaking out of their fences in search of green grass, as are another farmer’s sheep. In addition to the hassle of returning wayward animals to their pens, these animals require hay longer into the spring as a result of the unpredictable weather driven by climate change.

Ohio State University Extension climate specialist Aaron Wilson would not be surprised by our farmers’ experiences. He said warmer winters and summers, higher nighttime temperatures, and more rain and more extreme rain events are part of our recent climate record and expected to continue.

Other weather concerns that will impact our food supply include an increase in pests. Warmer winters will not kill as many insects and a longer growing season will allow them to extend their range. Heavy rains can also disrupt seeds and lead to greater soil erosion and fertilizer runoff. Increasing weather events like more frequent severe storms are part of what is often called global warming, perhaps more accurately referred to as global climate destabilization.

In other parts of our country and the world, less, not greater rainfall resulting in drought and intense fires also reflect our changing climate, with potentially severe consequences for food supply and food security. We are all facing the climate consequences of our dependence on fossil fuels, albeit in different ways.

A changing climate requires that food producers in every region, and consumers, focus on adaptability and crop resilience. As consumers, we all need to support our local farmers and learn more about the challenges they face and the ways they are responding to them.

June Program of the Climate Change Coalition of Door County

“Effective Communication in the Face of Skepticism: Climate Change”

Speaker:  Katie Krouse, Coalition Coordinator

Date:  June 20, 7 pm

Place:  Crossroads at Big Creek, 2041 Michigan St, Sturgeon Bay

Kathleen Smythe is a professor in the History Department and the Director of Land, Farming and Community – Sustainability Academic Programs at Xavier University in Cincinnati. She is the daughter of Mary and Dick Smythe, of Sister Bay, members of the Climate Change Coalition steering committee.

The Climate Corner is a monthly column featuring a variety of writers from around the state and Door County addressing various aspects of the challenges and opportunities climate change presents. The Corner is sponsored by the Climate Change Coalition of Door County, which is dedicated to “helping to keep our planet a cool place to live.” The Coalition is always open to new members and ideas. Contact the Coalition at [email protected]

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