Climate change impacts on Northeast agriculture CALS Impact Statement uri icon

abstract

  • Prior climate change studies have focused on major world food crops such as wheat and maize, but this is not relevant to the Northeastern U.S. (NE) agriculture economy, which is dominated by dairy and high-value horticultural crops. We used new, high resolution climate projections to evaluate factors relevant to major NE commodities. A longer growing season could create new opportunities for farmers with enough capital to take risks on new crops (assuming a market for new crops can be developed). However, farmers will face new challenges from marginally over-wintering insects, and increased threat of invasive weeds and insects shifting their range northward. Water management will be more challenging due to increased frequency of flooding from high rainfall events, and yet also increased risk of short-term droughts during late summer. By mid-century warmer winters will negatively affect yields of our apple and native grape varieties that require more than 1000 hours of “winter chill” to bloom properly in spring. Of more immediate concern are erratic winters leading to more freeze damage from premature mid-winter leaf-out, or delayed hardening in fall. Increased summer heat stress will have a substantial negative impact on dairy milk production by mid century. Farmer adaptations to climate change will not be cost- or risk-free, and the impact on individual farm families and rural communities will depend on commodity produced, available capital, and timely, accurate climate projections.