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Farmers face extreme weather, climate challenges

By Alayna DeMartini and Tracy Turner • Jul 23, 2019 at 6:00 PM

Despite facing a surge in annual rainfall and increased risks of fields eroding and weeds and insects spreading, farmers can build resilience.

A recent conference titled “Climate Smart: Farming with Weather Extremes” showed farmers and others in agriculture ways to adapt to the growing challenges of a wetter, warming climate.

“Climate Smart,” which took place in Plain City, included talks from agronomic and horticultural experts from The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), which co-hosted the conference with the State Climate Office of Ohio.

“The idea is to get people to start thinking about building resilience to the changes we see,” said Aaron Wilson, climate specialist for CFAES.

May 2018 to April 2019 was the wettest year on record nationwide, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information. An average of 36.20 inches of precipitation fell nationwide, which was 6.25 inches above the mean, the agency said.

The excess rain has hindered or even prevented some Ohio farmers from planting their crops in time to ensure decent yields. Some of those who couldn’t plant a cash crop are salvaging what they can in a difficult planting year by planting cover crops instead, to reduce the odds of their fields eroding. Hay supplies to feed livestock are also severely low in the state and across the Midwest because rain has delayed or prevented hay from being cut.

The wheat crop across the state has also been negatively impacted, as growers have dealt with poor stands and drowned-out spots, according to Cheryl Turner, Ohio state statistician, U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service Ohio Field Office. In fact, “wheat conditions going into harvest are much worse than last year,” she said.

Across Ohio, intense downpours — those greater than 1.5 inches — have nearly doubled since 1950. They’re now occurring four to five times per year, on average. April rainfall in Ohio has increased about 25 percent since 1970, and that’s a month when there aren’t many crops growing to help keep water in the soil, Wilson said.

And the summer outlook from the Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service suggests the wetter-than-normal weather will continue across much of the country, the USDA said.

“Farmers are having to combat all of this,” Wilson said.

The intent of Climate Smart was to convey to farmers what the weather trends have been, what effects they’ve caused, and how farmers can adapt to them and still operate profitable businesses.

Among the issues addressed was managing significant water flows on the surface of fields and underground. That included examining the pros and cons of various measures to handle the water, including additional ditches, buffer strips, and underground series of pipes that flow into a nearby waterway.

“There are a lot of possible solutions for dealing with increasing rainfall,” Wilson said. “There’s no one perfect solution for all farms.”

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