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Farming in the Age of Climate Change

Eamon Molloy

by Azul Tellez Wright

A few weeks ago, I attended an event hosted by Friends of Family Farmers titled “Farming in the Age of Climate Change”. The room was filled with farmers, people in the nonprofit sector, and community members interested in how climate change is affecting our small, local farmers. Farmers spoke about the changes they are experiencing due to climate change and the mitigation tactics they are using to adapt to it.

“Climate change in the Pacific Northwest will not have the same effects as the rest of the world,” says Anne Berblinger of Gales Meadow Farms. Farmers in the Pacific Northwest are currently experiencing or can expect to experience the following effects:

  • More days in the 90s and 100s causing interference with plant growth and pollination. Flowering produce such as peppers and tomatoes need to be pollinated or else their flowers will fall off and no fruit will grow.

  • Increase in the number of smoky days, which, combined with hotter days will create unhealthy working conditions. Anne Berblinger reported that there were ten days last year with unworkable conditions.

  • Limited water for irrigation caused by regional water shortages.

  • Excessive winter rain as a result of warmer temperatures in the atmosphere.

  • Milder winters leading to increase in weeds and insects, who thrive in warmer temperatures.

While these effects pose serious challenges, farmers are nothing if not resilient and adaptable. What are farmers doing to mitigate the effects of climate change? Many farmers have begun to focus more of their attention on reducing their carbon footprint on the farm.

Zach Menchini of Campfire Farms in Mulino, Oregon, shared that the feed he gives his livestock account for most of his carbon emissions. In order to offset this, he has planted 15 acres of trees on his property. Trees sequester carbon out of the atmosphere, thus making up for the carbon emitted through the production of his pig feed.
Anne Berblinger of Gales Meadow Farm has been experimenting with Dry Farming, a method of farming without irrigation. This means that plants do not receive water (except rainwater) after seeding or transplanting. Anne says that dry farming results in lower yields but much better flavor than irrigated crops. She has experimented with different varieties of plants to find which ones are successful in dry farming, such as the Red Pontiac Potato. Over 100 farmers in Oregon are using dry farming through an OSU Small Farms program that teaches farmers this alternative farming method.

Other methods of mitigating climate change include:

  • Planting earlier in the calendar year since it becomes warmer sooner. Some farmers are planting their tomates as soon as May 21st.

  • Being vigilant about looking for new pests and weeds.

  • Adding more organic materials to the soil to increase water retention.

Next week, I’ll be covering House Bill 2020, also known as Oregon’s Cap and Trade Bill. The bill passed out of its legislative committee last week and would incentivize farmers to engage in climate change mitigation tactics. Check in next week for a discussion of the bill’s implications for small farmers!