Research and extension programming to address the impact of climate change on Northeast agriculture CALS Impact Statement uri icon


  • Abstract

    Our research indicated an earlier spring bloom for lilacs, apples, and grapes, corresponding with a long-term warming trend for the region.


    Recent studies have documented a temperature increase of 1.8° F in the northeast U.S. over the past 100 years. The global average temperature increase has been 1.1° F. In particular, winter temperatures from December through February are increasing more than the annual average temperatures. Winter temperatures have increased by 2.8° F over the past 100 years and by 4.4° F during the past 30 years. An assessment is needed of the effects of this change on plants, insects, and pathogens in the Northeast, as is public educational outreach. Climate change presents potential agricultural opportunities, like an extended growing season, as well as risks, like increased weed or pest pressure, that will affect food security, rural economies, and the environment. There is a critical need to provide agricultural educators with the knowledge and tools to assist farmers and local policymakers in making informed choices within the context of a changing climate.


    We evaluated changes in spring bloom dates from 1965 to 2001, utilizing a unique data set derived from genetically identical lilac plants, Syringa chinensis and its clone, Red Rothomagensis. These plants were monitored at 72 locations within the northeastern U.S. In addition, we examined bloom date records for apples and grapes at several sites in New York during the same time period. Collectively, the results indicate an advanced spring bloom in these woody perennials of about four to eight days during the latter half of the 20th century. The results have been published in the International Journal of Biometeorology and conveyed to the general public through various news media.

    Also in 2004 we organized a half-day symposium on climate change that included topics on the evidence of climate change in the region; weed and crop responses; farmer adaptation strategies; and new opportunities for farmers in the energy marketplace. A proceedings was made available, and the presentations were published on the Cornell Cooperative Extension website.


    Our research showing evidence of earlier spring phenology in the northeastern U.S. received national media attention, reaching millions of citizens through an Associated Press report published in dozens of newspapers and through coverage on National Public Radio, CNN, NBC Nightly News, and websites including Over 80 people attended our climate change symposium for extension educators, and some have already disseminated information published in the proceedings through grower newsletters and other outlets.

    Funding Sources

    • Federal Formula Funds - Extension (e.g., Smith Lever, RREA)
    • Private (e.g., commodity groups, foundations, companies)
    • Other USDA (e.g., Water Quality, Special Grants, NRI)


    • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
    • University of New Hampshire
    • Cornell Cooperative Extension

    Key Personnel

    • David W. Wolfe
    • Professor, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University
    • Mark Schwartz
    • Professor, Department of Geography, University of Wisc-Milwaukee
    • Alan Lakso
    • Prof, Hort Sci, Geneva Exp Stn