Schenectady County

Conference set on climate shift, farmers

If you’re a farmer, you can expect shorter winters and longer summers.

If you’re a farmer, you can expect shorter winters and longer summers.

You can expect more pests on vegetable crops from insects to weeds, and more extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.

These are just some of the ways that global warming will affect agriculture, according to scientists.

An upcoming conference, titled “New York Farming and Climate Instability,” will focus on what farmers can expect from climate change and what can be done to prepare for it. The conference will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday, Jan. 30, at the New York State Legislative Office Building in Albany. The event is sponsored by Honest Weight Food Co-op, the Regional Farm & Food Project and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.

The conference will feature a question and answer session; questions will be directed at a panel of farmers from throughout the state. Also expected to attend and answer questions is scientist Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig, who has studied climate change at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. State legislators have been invited, and organizers expect a strong turnout.

The goal of the conference, said Billie Best of the Regional Farm & Food Project, is to raise awareness of how climate change will affect agriculture in New York. “Agriculture is on the front line of climate change,” she said. “Farmers need to be prepared to respond to change.”

“Farmers who grow crops choose crops on the basis of seasons, their water supply, the soil type,” Best continued. “All of these things are affected by climate change.”

This is the first time Honest Weight, based in Albany, the Regional Farm & Food Project and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York have sponsored an event like focused on farming and climate change.

“This is probably the most relevant topic to food, and local food, that I can think of,” said Karissa Centanni, education coordinator at Honest Weight.

Best said that some people — including legislators — remain skeptical about whether global warming is occurring.

Conference organizers, on the other hand, have no doubts that climate change is occurring.

farmers are aware

“It’s very much clear that one of the areas that will be greatly affected by climate change is agriculture,” said Greg Swartz, a Sullivan County-based farmer who serves as executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York. “Farmers are generally more aware of what’s happening in the environment.”

Last year the National Arbor Day Foundation released a new plant hardiness zone map that updated a 1990 map issued by the United States Department of Agriculture; in the new map, significant portions of many states have shifted at least one full hardiness zone, an indication that the United States is getting warmer.

“That’s a real thing that’s happening very quietly,” Best said. “All growers tend to know the hardiness zones they live in.”

Hardiness zone maps are used by gardeners to determine what trees, flowers, fruits and vegetables will survive in the zone where they live.

Best, who raises chickens, cows, goats and sheep on a small farm in western Massachusetts, said she notices subtle changes, but that it’s hard to know whether to attribute them to climate change or normal weather patterns.

“It seems the winters are warmer than in my childhood,” she said. She said there’s a pond at her farm that has dried up three times in the nine years she’s live there; two of those three times have been in the last three years.

support for farms

The brochure for “New York Farming and Climate Instability” suggests a number of ways to tackle the problem of climate change, including: supporting organic and sustainable agriculture, supporting small and medium sized farms, supporting local foods and conserving farmland.

Supporting local food, organizers said, reduces the consumption of fossil fuels in transporting and processing food; smaller farms, they said, require less energy and pollute less than larger, more industrial farms.

“We want to go back to a couple centuries ago, when farmland was not all developed and there were farmers markets all around,” said Louise Maher-Johnson, who is organizing the “New York Farming and Climate Instability” conference and is a member of the Honest Weight and RFFP boards. “People want local food, and they want better food. You can’t have carbon dioxide reduction without (talking about) food.”

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