In the year 2019, more than 1,000,000 acres of Michigan farmland were left unused because of heavy rain. As climate change is changing more wet early springs and earlier ones, prolonged summer droughts and winters that are colder have become typical in the farming industry across Michigan. Farmers are adapting their methods 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 the weather and make critical choices about the best time, place, and how to grow and when.
Perennials such as cherries, grapes, and apples are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, Andresen declares. In the event of lower conditions, some farms employ ventilators to distribute warm air. Winemaker Coenraad Stassen of Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery, close to Traverse City, has developed innovative methods to keep his grapes warm in cold winters. He secures his grape canes with irrigation lines on the ground before putting snow on the clubs, which results in an 80 percent 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 with earlier blooms, certain farmers stop the early budding process by spraying trees with water in order to create protected ice cells. As temperatures continue to rise and become more humid climates, Nikki Rothwell, an Integrated Pest Management researcher with MSU Extension, has seen new diseases and pests such as fire blight along with Spotted Wing Drosophila. Rothwell discovered that trimming trees and cutting mowing space 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 says.
Rothwell suggests that farmers diversify their systems and crops “to spread the risk.” For instance, farmers could lose their cherries. However, they will not lose their apples during a frost. The adaptation process also involves selecting different varieties and altering planting times. Certain types of cherries bloom later in the year to ensure they are not affected by freeze and frost conditions. The farmers who cultivate row crops are planting crops such as wheat, soybeans, and alfalfa, which are able to utilize CO2 increases to create more material for plants.
With the changing regions of cultivation and seasons, a few farmers are benefiting from the advantages 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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