Farmers in the northeast face new challenges amid droughts and floods

PROVIDENCE, RI (AP) — Vermont farmer Brian Kemp is used to seeing the pastures at Mountain Meadows Farm grow more slowly in late hot summers, but this year the grass has stalled.

It’s “very nerve-wracking” when you’re grazing 600 to 700 cattle, said Kemp, who runs an organic beef farm in Sudbury. He describes the weather lately as inconsistent and rambling, which he attributes to climate change.

“I don’t think there’s any more normalcy,” Kemp said.

The impacts of climate change have been felt throughout the Northeastern United States with rising sea levels, heavy rainfall and storm surges causing flooding and coastal erosion. But this summer has brought another extreme: a severe drought that is making lawns crispy and forcing farmers to call for regular rains. Heavy, short rains brought by occasional thunderstorms tend to run off and not soak into the ground.

READ MORE: How the climate deal could help farmers protect the environment

Water supplies are low or dry, and many communities restrict non-essential outdoor water use. Fire departments fight more bushfires and crops grow poorly.

Providence, Rhode Island had less than half an inch of rain in the third-driest July on record, and Boston had six-tenths of an inch in the driest fourth of July on record, according to the bureau. from the National Weather Service in Norton, Massachusetts. The Governor of Rhode Island issued a statewide drought advisory on Tuesday with recommendations to reduce water usage. The north end of Hoppin Hill Reservoir in Massachusetts is dry, requiring local water restrictions.

Maine officials said drought conditions really started there in 2020, with occasional improvements in some areas since. In Auburn, Maine, local firefighters helped a dairy farmer fill a water tank for his cows when his well became too low in late July and temperatures reached 90. About 50 dry wells were reported in the state since 2021, according to the state’s well-investigated sec report.

The continued trend towards drier summers in the northeast can certainly be attributed to the impact of climate change, as warmer temperatures lead to greater evaporation and drying of soils, said climatologist Michael Mann. But, he said, dry weather can be punctuated by extreme rainfall, as a warmer atmosphere retains more moisture – when conditions are right for rainfall, there is more in short bursts.

Mann said his research at Penn State University showed evidence that climate change was leading to a “blocked jet stream” pattern. This means that huge meanders of the jet stream, or air current, remain locked in place, locking in extreme weather events which can alternately be associated with extreme heat and dryness in one place and extreme precipitation in another. , a pattern that occurred this summer. with heat and drought in the northeast and extreme flooding in parts of the Midwest, Mann added.

Most of New England is experiencing drought. The US Drought Monitor released a new map Thursday that shows areas of eastern Massachusetts outside Cape Cod and much of southern and eastern Rhode Island now in extreme drought, instead of severe .

New England has experienced severe summer droughts before, but experts say it’s unusual to have droughts in fairly quick succession since 2016. Massachusetts has experienced droughts in 2016, 2017, 2020, 2021 and 2022, which is most likely due to climate change, Vandana said. Rao, director of water policy in Massachusetts.

“We are hoping that maybe this is a period of peak drought and that we will be back to many more years of normal rainfall,” she said. “But this could just be the start of a longer trend.”

Rao and other New England water experts expect the current drought to last several more months.

“I think we’re probably going to be there for a while and it’s going to take a long time,” said Ted Diers, deputy director of the water division of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. “What we’re really hoping for is a wet fall followed by a very snowy winter to really recharge aquifers and groundwater aquifers.”

READ MORE: Drought-stricken western states must meet deadline to reduce Colorado River water use

Rhode Island’s top ranger, Ben Arnold, worries about the drought that’s lasting into the fall. This is when people do more yard work, burn brush, use fire pits and spend time in the woods, which increases the risk of wildfires. The fires this summer have been relatively small, but it takes a lot of time and effort to put them out because they are burning in the dry ground, Arnold said.

Hay farmer Milan Adams said one of the fields he was working in Exeter, Rhode Island was one foot powder. In previous years, it rained in the spring. This year, he said, the drought started in March and April was so dry he was nervous about his first cut of hay.

“The height of the hay was there, but there was no volume. From there we had a bit of rain in early May which kind of ratcheted up the pressure,” he said. “We haven’t seen anything since.”

Farmers are struggling with more than just drought — inflation is driving up the cost of everything from diesel and parts of equipment to fertilizers and pesticides, Adams added.

“Everything is through the roof right now,” he said. “It’s just throwing salt on a wound.”

Hay yield and quality are also down in Vermont, which means there won’t be as much for cows in the winter, Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said. The state has about 600 dairy farms, a $2 billion a year industry. Like Adams, Tebbetts said inflation is driving up prices, which will hurt farmers who will need to buy animal feed.

Kemp, president of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition, is grateful to have extra feed from last year, but knows of other farmers who don’t have land to stockpile and aren’t well supplied. . The coalition tries to help farmers evolve and learn new practices. They added “climate-smart agriculture” to their mission statement in the spring.

“Farming is a challenge,” Kemp said, “and it’s getting even harder as climate change happens.”