Michigan Farmers Adapt to Climate Change

In the year 2019, more than one million acres of Michigan farms were left unplanted due to the heavy rainfall. Due to climate change, warmer early springs and earlier ones, prolonged summer droughts, and more frigid winters are now the standard in the farming industry across Michigan. The practices of farmers are changing in order to adjust to the changing climate.

“Growers just have to monitor continuously,” says Jeffrey Andresen, a climatologist expert at Michigan State University Extension. Tools like Michigan State University’s Enviroweather, as well as MI EnviroImpact, help farmers anticipate conditions and help make crucial choices about the best time, place, and what to grow and when.

Perennials such as cherries, grapes, and apples are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, Andresen declares. When it comes to lower temperatures, some growers utilize fans to move warm air around. Winemaker Coenraad Stassen of Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery close to Traverse City, Michigan, devised new methods for keeping his grapes warm during harsher winters. He attaches his grape canes to irrigation lines that are laid on the ground prior to plowing snow on the clubs, leading to an 80% chance of survival.
“If you do the same thing you did 15 years ago, you’re fighting a losing battle,” Stassen says. Stassen.
For springs that are earlier, some farmers can halt early budding by spraying their fruit trees with water in order to create protected ice cells. As the temperatures rise and become more humid weather, Nikki Rothwell, an Integrated Pest Management researcher at MSU Extension, has seen new diseases and pests, such as fire blight and Spotted Wing Drosophila. Rothwell discovered that trimming trees and mowing between them decreases the risk of infestation by 40 percent. The added light raises the temperature of the canopy and also reduces humidity.

“We’ve really gone back to doing more of these old-school tactics that are looking holistically at the whole system,” Rothwell states.
Rothwell suggests that farmers diversify their systems and crops “to spread the risk.” For instance, farmers could lose their cherries but not their apples in the event of a frost. The adaptation process also involves selecting different varieties and altering the planting times. Certain types of cherries flower later in the season to ensure they are not affected by freeze or frost conditions. Farmers who grow row crops are putting in plants like wheat, soybeans, and alfalfa, which can benefit from CO2 increases to create more material for plants.
With the changing regions of cultivation and seasons, a few farmers are profiting from the benefits that climate-related changes bring.
“We now have 10-14 extra days of a frost-free growing season on average that we did not have 50 years ago in Michigan,” Andresen states. “That typically translates into a higher potential yield.”

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