January 22, 2015
“Most farmers I talk to don’t believe in ‘climate change,’” said Lester Vough, a forage specialist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Maryland. “But they do believe in ‘climate extremes.’”
Vough, who is known through Maryland as “the hay guy,” was speaking about how climate change is affecting farming, specifically the hay business. He was one of the guest speakers at Future Harvest CASA’s annual conference, presenting his observations in the “Environment, Community and Policy” track organized by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Whether it’s labeled “climate change” or “climate extremes,” he says, one of the biggest challenges affecting hay farmers is that the springs are wetter and cloudier than they used to be, which makes production difficult, but the summers are too hot for making hay.
William Lamp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland, spoke about how climate data show a pattern in Maryland of more drought in the summer, and more rain in the other seasons. This pattern has been affecting and continues to affect insect populations, which in turn have an impact on farming. Lantern flies are coming to Maryland from Pennsylvania, he gave as an example, and he expects potato leafhoppers to thrive in the increasingly hot and dry summers predicted for Maryland.
Another speaker, Paul Roberts, a winemaker from Deep Creek Cellars in Garrett County, Maryland, echoed Vough’s observations: weather patterns have shifted dramatically, creating new challenges and demanding new adaptations, from which grape varieties to plant to the Japanese beetles that seem to have no natural pest management solution.
Other conference tracks covered artisanal foods, health and food, and livestock production. Keith Ohlinger of Heritage Hill Farm in Westminster, Maryland, provided an overview of concepts and techniques that could address some of the challenges posed by climate change. Permaculture, keyline design, and rotational grazing were the main topics of his talk. Permaculture is an agricultural system modeled on natural ecosystems, and Ohlinger described, as an example of permaculture, his commitment to not deworming his cattle; by not using the deworming chemicals, the land where his cattle graze is able to support dung beetles, which are beneficial to the soil. He described his forays into rotational grazing and silvopasture, which is the practice of raising animals and trees in harmony. Keyline design involves using natural water flow on a piece of land to maximum benefit. “You have to study a piece of land for four seasons, so you can see what you’re looking at,” he said. “Ask yourself, What is the land telling you?”
Other presentations in the “Environment, Community and Policy” track addressed the opportunities for sustainable fisheries, food justice, and Lobbying 101. This was Future Harvest CASA’s sixteenth annual conference for farmers.
Photos: Mike Milli, 2015.