Friday, June 24, 2016

Cornell's Climate Smart Farming Extension Team Helps Farmers Deal with Weather Woes




Cornell’s Climate Smart Farming Extension Team was established to help farmers increase their resiliency to climate impacts and reduce risks and costs on their farms.

The team provides New York farmers with access to top extension specialists with the expertise needed to help manage the risks posed by increasing extreme weather, climate variability and long-term change.

The team works in partnership with the Cornell Climate Smart Farming program and faculty at Cornell, and draws on the latest science to answer producers’ questions about changes they can make on their farm to help increase future sustainability.

The six-member team of Luke Haggerty, Laura McDermott, Kimberley Morrill, Kitty O’Neil, Jesse Strzok and Darcy Telenko provides a wealth of expertise in fields such as: dairy management, agricultural economics, field crops and soil health, vegetables and integrated pest management, viticulture and enology and small fruit production.

Cornell’s Climate Smart Farming Extension Team was created in partnership with the Cornell Climate Smart Farming program to help farmers increase their resiliency, reduce risks and reduce costs on their farms.

The team gives New York farmers access to top extension specialists with the particular expertise to help manage the risks posed by increasing extreme weather, climate variability and long-term change.

Climate change can impact New York agriculture in many ways, and the Climate Smart Farming team is adept in helping farmers identify practices that can be implemented to mitigate these impacts. 

Here is a brief overview of some of these impacts and tactics:

Precipitation events: The trend of an increase in the intensity and unpredictability of precipitation events (both rain and snow) in the Northeastern U.S., which can lead to flooding and storm damage, is expected to continue.

Precipitation will likely continue to fall in fewer, more intense events, which can lead to periods of short-term drought during the growing season when rain is needed the most, causing reduction and variation in crop yields. Intense rainfall events can also cause soil erosion, planting and harvesting interference and nutrient runoff. 

Adaptation options: Farmers can adapt to both of these issues in tandem by focusing on the health of their soils – by increasing soil organic matter and allowing water infiltration through reduced tillage, cover cropping, and infrastructure investments (e.g. irrigation or drainage systems).

Heat Stress: The growing season across New York has increased by an average of eight days, however the number of heat stress days (exceeding 90 degrees) is also expected to increase, with winters continuing to grow milder. 

Heat stress, induced by an increasing number of days above 90 degrees, and longer growing seasons with more sporadic rainfall also pose challenges to farmers.

These challenges include lower crop yield and quality for some varieties, and conditions that reduce productivity and reproductive capacity for livestock.

Adaptation options: To combat this, producers can explore new varieties and diversification of crops to reduce reliance on heat-sensitive crops. For livestock in particular, farmers can strive to minimize heat exposure, increase water availability, adjust cows’ diets, and prevent over-crowding, thus improving barn-cooling capacity.

Disease, Insects and Weeds: Interactions between the climate, crops, insects, weeds and diseases are complex. However, evidence suggests climate change will increase disease, pest, and weed pressure, as more pests and weeds survive mild winters and warmer summers allow for new species to invade and native ones to develop faster.

Adaptation options: To prepare for increased pest pressure, growers need to develop rapid response plans and monitor management options that allow for targeted control of weeds, diseases, and insects.  Wide adoption of integrated pest management (IPM) will also help farmers manage new pests with minimal economic, environmental, and health risks.

Freeze Risk: In the past few years, late season freeze events have struck orchards and vineyards after plants had already bloomed, causing serious crop losses.

Adaptation options: Producers can implement several strategies to guard against these freezes. These include: using heaters and wind machines to circulate warmer air in vineyards or orchards, irrigating before or during potential freezes, and paying close attention to detailed weather forecasts.

The Climate Smart Farming Extension Team is equipped with the knowledge and information to provide constructive advice for farmers to combat these stresses. The goal of the Cornell Climate Smart Farming Program is to provide research-based information, training and tools to help famers make the most informed decisions they can. 

Cornell has developed several new decision support tools based on long term climate data, weather forecasts and agronomic models – the tools include a new Growing Degree Day calculator, Freeze Risk Tools and Irrigation Scheduler – and can be found on the CSF website (, along with the contact information for the CSF Extension Team members in New York.

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