[MUSIC PLAYING] DALE STEIN: The weather is definitely becoming more erratic and more extreme than what it had been in the past.
PAUL KING: I have that tendency, as others do that have lived a long time in the same place, to say, well, the winters aren't as cold, we're not getting as much snow.
ROD FARROW: Certainly, it's been a surprise over the last few years how much earlier the seasons have become in general.
JESICA CLARK: And I would say that it actually does seem like the season gets hotter faster.
DAVID WOLFE: We're here at one of Cornell's apple orchard research sites. New York is well known for the quality of its apples. We're usually second or third in the US in apple production. And we got there by farmers from over many years really working with Cornell researchers to come up with best management practices.
But of course, now we're facing, like farmers everywhere, new challenges, challenges associated with climate change. For example, I never expected when I got into this climate change research realm back in the 1990s that one of the most important things that would come up with regards to the fruit crop growers is actually cold and frost damage in a warming world.
The reason for that is that these plants can sometimes be tricked into blooming earlier with a warming winter. And we had known from looking at historical records that the apples were blooming a few days earlier than they used to. But in 2012, there was a real record breaker. The apples in the state bloomed about four weeks earlier than normal. Never observed before. And of course, this put them into a really long period of frost risk. And sure enough, we lost close to half the crop in much of the state. Millions of dollars of damage.
So to deal with this sort of thing, we have to think about things like frost risk warning systems for farmers. Farmers may have to consider misting systems or wind machines for frost protection. And our apple breeders may have to think about coming up with genetic types that don't jump the gun in terms of early bloom in warm winters.
So the experience of adapting to climate change may be different for each farm, but nevertheless, many of the state's leading agricultural industries, which include dairy, grapes, apples, and fresh market produce, all face new challenges, new risks, and new opportunities. When it comes to climate change and adaptation, farmers across New York all have a story to tell.
DALE STEIN: I'm Dale Stein, senior partner in Stein Farms in Le Roy. We milk 850 cows, work almost 3,000 acres of land. Today we've had very heavy rain all morning. They got flood watches up all over.
We've seen years where a drought where on a gravel ground, you get almost no yield. We actually had two years in a row, 2011 and 2012 were too dry here. So all our forages were lower production.
We feed 75 ton of feed a day. So about four tractor trailer loads of feed a day. We ended up by the end of 2012 running out of our surplus forage. We'd used all that up.
We end up on those years buying more grain, which increases our cost of production and lowers the profit down. But we're harvesting 1,500 to 2000 ton of triticale every May that if I didn't have-- that's extra on the same ground. If I didn't have that, we would have been in a lot worse place than we were without it.
BILL VERBETEN: The forage inventory shortages that we've had from extreme weather conditions in recent years is really just a sign of things to come, unfortunately. Farmers have to deal with a change in climate each and every day. And so in extension, we really try to help farmers manage their risk.
And growing a triticale forage crop or another small grain for forage can really give another opportunity to protect their resources over the winter, because they're more vulnerable to extreme precipitation events and losing that soil. We can protect the soil. Notice the fibrous root system. This is why this crop can hold soil. Just see how much soil even in this couple inches of roots that this is holding onto.
DALE STEIN: My standpoint from what I've seen on this farm, triticale works very well for us. And the palatability is phenomenal. The cows love it.
BILL VERBETEN: So this is an awesome combination of a profitable crop that protects the environment.
DALE STEIN: Baffles me by more farmers aren't using more triticale. Just baffles me.
PAUL KING: I'm Paul King. I do most of the vineyard management, and most of the winemaking and all of the distilling here at Six Mile Creek Vineyard. And I've been here for almost 25 years.
If we talk about climate change, a longer growing season and a little hotter weather will ripen the fruit more dependably. There are some varieties, and I can give you two or three examples. Pinot noir a little futzy, Merlot for sure, Cabernet Sauvignon, and to a lesser degree, chardonnay. I think these are varieties that will benefit.
The best management option for any individual vineyard to deal with increasingly varying weather, if we talk about climate change, would be to think carefully about the varieties that they're growing. That's really the biggest management strategy because everything else you're doing is then a little bit of a sort of a stopgap.
Wind turbines help in only very specific weather conditions where very calm conditions are set up and there is a deep gradient between the temperatures at the surface and just a few hundred feet in the air. And mixing up that layer can help a lot, but they're pretty specific weather conditions, and it's a pretty costly investment.
You need to grow the varieties that you can grow well, and that's what you need to do. That is especially true at Six Mile Creek, but it's also true for any of the other vineyards.
Last winter was a particularly cold one. And it's really interesting-- I think the minimum low temperature in Ithaca is still probably minus 23 degrees Fahrenheit or so. We didn't really approach that. But what we did see here were lots of excursions to minus 14, minus 15, minus 16 degrees.
And that is very, very critical temperature. You're going to get significant bud loss right around that threshold. What is that going to have on the quality and quantity of wine grapes that are grown in the region? And certainly at Six Mile Creek Vineyard, we have lost most of the Riesling fruit that we had here. As compared with our Seyval, a hybrid, where we have virtually a full crop.
There is a lack of name recognition of some of these hybrids. Seyval blanc, that sounds a lot like Sauvignon blanc. But is that a Sauvignon blanc? And well, it's not a Sauvignon blanc. It's a completely different variety.
It's my personal favorite. I get six ton per acre, even here. It's disease-resistant. It's one of the first grape varieties to ripen. It's a beautiful grape variety. It's just relatively unknown.
But I think the people that I know that most enjoy wine really like trying new wines. So there's a huge, huge outlet out there for exploring some of new hybrids. They're great varieties. It's one of the Finger Lakes fortes. In the long run, that's going to serve to help us.
ROD FARROW: I'm Rod Farrow, one of the owners and operators of Lemont Fruit Farm in Waterport, New York. We operate about 500 acres of apples. Grow all kinds of varieties, about 29 different ones. The major varieties would be empire, Honeycrisp, Gala, Fujis, SweeTangos.
We've certainly moved our bloom time forward probably at least five to seven days, and in some years a lot more than that. How much of this we can attribute to climate change is still a little bit debatable to me, personally. But there's certainly a sense that things are changing here and that the climate is getting a little more unpredictable. And the risk of early season and early bloom seems to be greater and greater every year. The chances of a warm spell in March, an extended warm spell, seem to be much larger now than they were 10 years ago.
I would say in general, our farm's definitely vulnerable to extreme weather events. It always has been. We're at the mercy of Mother Nature no matter what we do. The question is, has the frequency increased, and the risk? Certainly say there've been a lot of extreme instances of weather over the last 30 plus years here. We've had a number of very large hail storms, but certainly the frequency of that has been greater since 1998.
One of the things that drives what you do in terms of risk management is the profitability of your business. And a profitable business can afford to do things to mitigate risk, whether that be invest in frost machines, or try to choose better orchard sites, or overhead cooling or overhead irrigation frost protection.
Through the 2000s, the orchard business has generally been pretty healthy. So I certainly see an uptick in an investment in risk management. Anywhere we have reasonable sites or good orchard sites, we've survived any frost that we've ever had, including 2012. And we look at it as a company strategy that investing in the highest possible fruit sites or orchard sites has just as big or if not greater economic impact than trying to mitigate a site that's going to be at risk in years when it's cold.
Certainly, multi-peril insurance can help in years of distinct disaster and actually make years that could be very, very bad for you actually years that you could not necessarily thrive in, but you can at least survive through. So we're big believers in that. The strategies that are being used at the moment to lower your risk are definitely trying to preserve the economic viability of fruit farms and businesses in general in Western New York.
Not all climate change is negative. So increasing the number of heat units per season has a positive impact on what we can do for fruit size, potential yield, and return bloom tree health. So there's always gains and balances with anything. We certainly have a little bit higher risk, but we also possibly have a slightly higher potential in terms of yield and value.
JESICA CLARK: My name is Jesica Clark. I'm the Assistant Farm Manager at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. And the Poughkeepsie Farm Project is a nonprofit that has an educational mission, and also a working CSA farm.
We are not certified organic, but we do try to use organic practices. I notice climate change in terms of the disease susceptibility of our plants, and I've seen definitely an increase in the number of different diseases and pests that can affect us here in the Northeast. Certainly, when we have very extreme weather events, and certainly when we have sort of these very strange, you know, very either early summers or very late summers or very, very late fall so that it doesn't actually get to freezing until February. You know, I'm sure that that extends how strong the disease pressure can be the next year, and the pest pressure.
And heat stress actually can be a big factor for a lot of our Brassicas. And in general, that's something you deal with as a farmer and the changing with the seasons. Spring to summer Brassicas are always going to be a challenge, but they're even more of a challenge. And they're a good indicator in terms of crops because they do not like a lot of variability in their weather. They pretty much like the weather to always be relatively mild, not too wet, not too dry, and pretty much the same temperature all the time. And that's really just not what you get here.
So we're already dealing with a changing climate. You know, what was it, two years ago when we would have 80 degree weather in early March and then go freezing in April. Crazy things can happen in a season. It's almost like predicting for unpredictability. Having that kind of reinforces the fact that we should have diversified market areas and also diversified crops.
You don't have to be as diversified as the CSA, because certainly that can be a little bit overboard in some areas, but certainly to rely on one crop is, you know, it's like playing a game of dice. Like sometimes it's just not going to come up your turn. And if, certainly, if you don't have crop insurance, and even if you do have crop insurance, you know, it can be a very risky, you know, game to play.
I know people who are in the orchard business in Ulster County, and even they're kind of going more into agrotourism, they're going more into different crops, different specialty crops just to have something on the side that they can rely on. It kind of makes one as a farmer more bold to say, oh, well, we'll just see how early we can get tomatoes, if it's going to be warmer earlier, or we'll see how late we can have crops into the fall. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work, but you never know, and probably something else is going to fail in the meantime.
I personally like to also make sure that our organic matter is high in our soils to begin with so that it has that humus and organic matter that's capable of holding water, as well as, as much as possible, keeping our soil covered in a cover crop when we can, and then even when we're tilling in that cover crop to try and choose moments where we're not losing too much soil. Certainly, we're thinking about carbon sequestration and being able to lock in a lot of that carbon into our soils, partially because it's good for the Earth, and partially because it's good for our plants to have that much, you know, to have a high carbon soil.
You know, you come into the idea of sustainable farming knowing that you're trying to not ruin the planet, and trying to make sure that you're not, you know, you're not messing things up too bad.
DAVID WOLFE: Well, these are just some of the experiences and challenges that farmers throughout the Northeast are dealing with in adapting to climate change. But we have advantages in this region, too, such as being relatively water rich. And with a longer growing season, this could open up new opportunities for new markets and new crops. Here at Cornell and Cornell's Institute of Climate Change and Agriculture, we are poised and ready to take on climate change challenges and work with our grower partners, stay one step ahead of the curve, and take advantage of any opportunities that might come our way.
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Various New York farmers and Cornell University researchers discuss observed changes in extreme weather and climate variability on their farms and what can be done to adapt.