Farmers in Athens county are facing the unique effects that climate change is having on crops throughout the region.
Many farmers have been dealing with the effects of erratic weather patterns caused by climate change. This is not restricted to “global warming,” but also includes colder than average temperatures and much shorter transition periods between seasonal changes.
“It's kind of just a sense that the normal patterns are being interrupted,” Paul Tomcho, the owner-operator of Creekside Farm, said.
Ed Perkins, an owner and operator of Sassafras Farm, said he has seen earlier cold temperatures and has had to deal with the repercussions of quicker temperature changes as well.
“I think the thing about climate change is it is … increasing in extremes,” Perkins said. “We just had a pretty cold spell last week. It seems rather unusual.”
Perkins said he has crops that he usually doesn’t have to cover until December, but this year he had to cover them much earlier. He has already lost crops this year due to the unexpected temperature changes.
“I didn't get the peppers covered soon enough, so I lost all of them,” Perkins said.
The lack of a transitional period has also proved an issue for others growing crops, including Arthur Trese, a professor of plant biology at Ohio University.
“This year, we had record setting high temperatures in September and the first week of October, and then we were very near are setting records for the cold the beginning of November across much of the country.” Trese said.
That creates a conundrum for those who are attempting to grow fall season crops, Trese said. The majority of the season is too hot for those crops, and then very quickly it becomes too cold for them to survive.
“Just a week and a half ago, we had our first 10 degree night at my farm in Athens,” Trese said. “So that spells the end of a lot of different plants that you were hoping you could plant in the fall and get them. A typical fall would be mild weather for many weeks.”
Erratic weather conditions, including changes in temperature patterns, dry spells and rainfall patterns, leave farmers in Ohio in a position where it is very hard to adapt, Trese said.
“I think it's more an issue of extreme events out of (the) ordinary ... that is just disruptive to farming,” Trese said. “It's not a gradual something you can adapt to by just changing when you plant things and what you plant.”
Trese said there is starting to be a shift in the way climate change is discussed. It is no longer thought that the climate will just warm, but there are now many other factors that farmers and scientists are considering both when discussing and dealing with the effects of climate change.
People are starting to use different terms other than climate change to define factors that are affecting crops and the climate, Trese said.
“(People) use terms more like climate chaos than to say climate change, because when we started talking about it, some years ago, the idea was that it was going to gradually get warmer,” Trese said. “We don't need to worry about (Ohio) just gradually become a warmer place.”
Others have seen a change in the climate change discussion as well. Although global warming is often used as an all encompassing term for climate change, Perkins feels that this term can be misleading and opens up the floor to fuel climate change deniers.
“Global warming is bringing colder winters. That fuels the denial,” Perkins said. “It has a politically negative effect: weakening support, getting fuel to the climate change deniers and convincing legislators not to do anything about it, and (it has a) negative effect on the farmers who have to deal with this through the winter.”
Trese said he had trouble with this year’s broccoli crop due to the lack of transitory fall weather that the crop needs to flourish.
“After all that pampering and taking care of, then struggling to get it through the heat of September and early October … the cold killed it anyway,” Trese said. “That certainly seems unfair. You know, what am I supposed to do? How am I ever going to get a crop in here? Can I count on the weather being anything close to typical?”