Extreme Weather and Farming

The Food and Farming Network held one of its bi-monthly study sessions on Wednesday December 16th, 2015. It took place at Cherry Capital Foods‘ in their large conference room. A video of the entire proceedings is available below.

FFN Co-chair Bill Palladino penned a summary of the study session for the Traverse City Record-Eagle which appeared in their Agriculture Forum on December 26th, 2015.  The text of that article and a link to the Record-Eagle is included below this video.

Here are timings for sections of the panel discussion. You may view this on YouTube to directly to access linked shortcuts to these sections.

00:00 – Welcome and Introduction by Heather Ratliff
02:10 – Intro by moderator Wendy Wieland
08:00 – Dave Barrons presentation
24:00 – Jim Nugent presentation
31:30 – Josh Wunsch comments
41:30 – Pepper Bromelmeier soil erosion demonstration
48:00 – Paul May comments
52:00 – Panel and Audience Q&A
1:18:30 – Closing comments

This article was first published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle on December 26, 2015 in the Agricultural Forum section of the paper. The version of the article posted below is annotated with links and supporting data based on the conversation. If you’d prefer, you can view the original Record-Eagle posting here: Record-Eagle Ag Forum Dec 26

Bill Palladino 2009 4x5 color web

Extreme Weather Events and Farming in NW Michigan

On Dec. 16, the NW Michigan Food and Farming Network hosted its bi-monthly study sessions featuring a panel discussion on the impacts of extreme weather events on northwest Michigan farming.

Wendy Wieland, of the MSU Product Center, moderated the panel, which included former TV weatherman Dave Barrons, and farmers Jim Nugent, Josh Wunsch, and Paul May. What promised to be a politically charged and contentious debate about climate change turned into a sobering conversation based on factual data from both national and local sources.

Dave Barrons kicked off the session by sharing a short animation by renowned climatologist Jim Hansen, of Columbia University. The graph showed in unequivocal terms the shift in extreme temperature anomalies across the northern hemisphere. Hansen’s research demonstrates that whatever your political stance on the cause of climate change, real and serious changes to weather patterns are threatening our assumptions of how we manage our agricultural resources.

And here’s a paper authored by Hansen on the Perception of Climate Change.

Base data collected between 1951 and 1980 was used to create a norm with which the ensuing years of data were overlaid. The resulting graph showed a shocking shift to hotter and hotter summers with a much higher frequency of extreme temperature anomalies.

Jim Nugent, former director of the Leelanau Horticultural Research Station, then presented a chart of his own. This data was derived from something a bit closer to home for northwest Michigan. Nugent charted the dates of Montmorency Cherry blooms across four decades. The data clearly showed bloom dates advancing earlier across time with a demonstrated increase in temperature extremes.

The impact of this for northwest Michigan farmers is clear: Either prepare for these changes or risk losing their livelihoods. The panel discussion shifted at this point to ask how farmers could “weatherproof” their farms from such extremes.

Josh Wunsch (Wunsch Farm), a farmer on the Old Mission Peninsula, spoke to the realities of agriculture in northwest Mission and how each farmer’s response to weather tends to be more day-to-day and “less inclined to be responsive to long-term trends no matter how well founded in research the supporting science may be.”

“Climate change in agriculture is, and always has been, a daily occurrence,” Wunsch said. “We evolve cropping systems that are adaptive. We do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.”

When asked to look for opportunities for northwest Michigan farmers amid the data, Paul May (The May Farm) jumped at the chance to rephrase the question to: “What would Wendell Berry do?” Berry is an acclaimed poet, novelist, and farmer from Kentucky who preaches a life based on valuing land and community. May emphasized Berry’s philosophy and urged farmers to “observe your land in between your fences and treat it well.”

Here’s a terrific interview with Wendell Berry from Yale’s 2013 Chubb Lecture series.

“If you do that, whatever it is you decide to grow or sell, you’ll get a price for it and it’ll support you,” May said. “I don’t think we need to seek out the opportunity. It’s knocking us over.”

Bill Palladino directs Taste the Local Difference and is co-chair of the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network.

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