Vermont will face considerable disruption to the local food system and farm profitability and viability because of climate change.1 In addition, the significant impact of climate change on global food production and supply chains intensifies the need to increase the resilience of Vermont farming and local food systems and maintain our agricultural land base. Supporting Vermont farmers’ efforts to adapt will also reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, improve water quality, and perhaps make farmers more competitive with farms outside Vermont. Additional training, education, financial support, and research on adaptation will help farmers be resilient and innovative as the climate continues to change.
Climate change effects on Vermont agriculture are largely dependent upon the type of farm, its specific production system, and its location and exposure to extreme events (e.g., flooding). Observed climatic changes include an increase in annual precipitation, a greater frequency of heavy storms, warming in annual average temperature, and higher temperature extremes. Projections estimate that these trends will continue to intensify, with more rain through the winter and spring months, and an increased risk of drought in late summer. For farms, this means increased pest and disease pressure, water stress on crops, and more heat stress on livestock.
Wet soils are already a significant concern and will continue to exacerbate resulting soil compaction, along with the risk of greater runoff, erosion, and nutrient loss from fields due to heavy storms. Overall, farms may face fewer field-working days due to wet soils in the spring, despite a lengthening of the growing season. At the same time, reliable water sources will become increasingly important for all farms, and efficient irrigation will be critical to sustain fruit and vegetable production. Apple growers will face an increased risk of frost damage as a result of warmer winter and early spring temperatures. Sugar maple sap runs may occur earlier in the winter, and result in a sugar season with fewer days when sap can be collected.
Farmers are adapting to the observed changes to some degree, but many lack the capacity to invest in adequate adaptation measures. There is also significant interest by farmers in employing management practices that store carbon and help mitigate climate change, but financial incentives for doing so are currently lacking. More action is necessary to maintain agricultural viability into the future.
Very heavy precipitation events have been increasing. From 1958 to 2016, the Northeast experienced:
- a 55% increase in volume of precipitation falling in the heaviest 1% of events, and
- a 27% increase in the maximum daily precipitation in consecutive five-year periods.
- In both of these metrics the Northeast saw the greatest increase of any U.S. region