Monday, May 28, 2007

Farming in the Face of Global Warming

I don’t care what anybody says, the climate is changing. I've experienced it first hand. Of course, it has always changed throughout time. But the past few years have been, well, wacky. Last year was probably one of the worst year’s I have ever experienced in terms of dealing with severe weather conditions and crop loss. This year has been equally difficult and we’ve barely gotten started. The winter was mild (bad for trees and other flowering crops), the spring has been wet (bad unless you grow rice or cranberries), and now it has been very dry and windy making it difficult to get tender young tomato plants into the ground. While I could not predict this was going to happen, I accept that faming in the face of global warming is something we will deal with more and more. Fortunately, the bizarre weaatehr patterns this year have not had a measurable effect on our crops.

After last year’s huge losses due to hail, rain, and frost, I made the expensive decision to construct two acres of high tunnels (hoops with plastic stretched over top) in order to help contend with weather issues. They won’t eliminate problems, but they’ll certainly ameliorate issues. The coverings themselves will protect from rain, hail, wind, and frost. Also, one of the invisible benefits is that they filter out harmful UV rays (can you depleted ozone layer) that cause plant tissue to heat up and reduce plant physiological functioning (i.e., they don’t grow as well). Further, the tunnels can extend our season both earlier and later allowing to increase production throughout the year. But the biggest benefit is that the tunnels will help with our transition to certified organic status by reducing disease and insect problems, and increasing percentage of marketable crops. Theoretically, that is.

Nobody’s really done this in our area on this scale and the fact is that we’re approaching it as a pilot project. If it works, then it means we can begin to transition other more difficult-to-grow-organically crops to organic production systems. We’re already planted raspberries, currants, tomatoes, and strawberries. After that, we’ll complete the suite with our sweet corn—all certified organic. Later this summer we’ll have a meeting for media, farmers, public, and anyone generally interested in the future of farming in the Hudson Valley to explain what we’re doing and why. This is just another step in our adventure to Beyond Organic and an economically viable model for agriculture. After a mild winter, very wet spring, super hot and dry May (so far), I don’t what the summer will bring. What I do know is that I have those High Tunnels and they're ready and raring to protect our crops this year. I can’t withstand another high crop loss year like last year and the high tunnels are far from perfect, but I do sleep a bit better a night these days knowing I have done what I can. Happy Farming, Mike Biltonen.


Blogger Jessica Schessler said...

I definitely agree about the weather! No one can tell me that it hasn't changed... I've only been here on Earth for 21 years, and even I can tell it's changed! I live where the weather is wacky anyway, and now it's just gotten worse. The heck with seasons, each day has its' own season!

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