Climate Change: Early Blooming Spells Trouble for Botanicals

Erin Potter, Columnist

By now we can hopefully all agree that climate change is happening. If you still disagree, please reread my first installment of this column. Let me ask you an important question: do you like to eat? If so, then you should keep reading. The recent warming of the climate is and will continue to have an impact on agriculture. So, all of those fruits and vegetables you love will be impacted in some way.
There is some indication that agriculture is being impacted already, mainly in the blooming periods. Many plant species are blooming earlier as a result of the current climate change trend; grapes in the northeast are blooming six days earlier and apples are blooming eight days earlier than they were in the 1960s. Some crops can benefit from climate change, but not all do or will. David W. Wolfe at Cornell University stated, “For farmers, gardeners, urban landscapes…climate change might allow exploration of new crops and new markets, but will also bring with it increased weeds, disease, and insect pressure, damaging summer heat stress, and new challenges for water management.”
With more frequent heat stress in the summer, crop yields will go down, milk production will decrease, and even crop quality will decline. Heavier rains can easily wipe out crop populations.
Warmer winters can be a benefit to crops such as wine grapes. However The New York State Finger Lakes wine industry benefits from warmer winters because the vines aren’t exposed to as many cold temperature days. However, the disadvantage is that when freezes do occur, the plant suffers from increased damage. From 2003 to 2005 warmer temperatures were experienced in December, but millions of dollars in damage due to freezes occurred because the typical winter hardening of buds and vines didn’t occur.
We may not be able to enjoy the food and drinks that we love, but insects can. Flea beetles and corn earworms, for example, can feast on crops more because of better survival rates over winter and more generations per season.
The main problem for farmers will be adaptation and how to manage the changes that are beginning to be seen. Farmers will be forced to adjust planting dates and the kind of crops they plant. They will have to come up with new strategies for dealing with the increase in pests, diseases and weeds. Improvements in irrigation and drainage will have to be made, as well as improvements for livestock facilities. All of this can put a hefty burden on a farmer’s wallet. New financial aid should be introduced along with new climate change policies that will integrate economic and environmental issues.
What this means for us is that we might not be able to enjoy tomatoes on our burgers as often or not take pleasure in consuming as many oranges or strawberries. Production of the fruits and vegetables we eat daily could decrease and place a heavier burden on our economy. We might have to pay more for the commodities or lose them altogether. If you love apples, strawberries or milk, you should care about climate change.

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