The predicted effects of a warming planet on Garden State farmers are grim: crop failures, plant diseases and an influx of pests.
The topic was front and center at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City last week, where hundreds of growers from the state’s billion-dollar farming industry gathered for New Jersey’s 104th State Agricultural Convention.
“There were people for years that denied there was climate change. ... Now I think there’s more acceptance because they can see it on their farms and fields,” said Douglas Fisher, secretary of the Department of Agriculture.
For the first time, Fisher said, the event featured talks from experts on global warming, including climatologist and Rutgers professor Dr. David Robinson.
Robinson used maps and statistics to get his point across to a room packed with farmers: Climate change is happening in New Jersey, and it will affect the agricultural industry through extreme weather events, flooding and warming temperatures.
Six of the seven warmest years on record in New Jersey have occurred since 2006.
Warmer temperatures benefit insects and diseases, meaning farmers may have to change their pesticide use.
Nights are getting warmer too, Robinson said, not giving plants enough time to cool off before the sun rises again.
Last year was also the wettest since 1895, he said. Researchers say global warming is making extreme rainfalls more common. Excess rain can rot crops and make muddy fields difficult to work.
“If you’re a homeowner, you just know you didn’t get to rest your lawnmower much in the summer,” Robinson said. “If you’re a farmer, you had trouble in the spring, in May, planting ... then the problems continued into the summer.”
Convention delegates with the Vegetable Growers Association later passed their first climate change-related resolution, calling on all farmers to implement “feasible practices to reduce their contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.” It also urged the Department of Agriculture to provide input in state-level policies that address global warming.
The representatives come from dozens of industry sectors and New Jersey counties.
Bill Cutts, a delegate at the convention and a cranberry farmer, said climate change is expected to alter how he runs his business.
Higher temperatures are expected to create unsuitable conditions for blueberries and cranberries, which require long winter-chill periods. Cutts owns cranberry farms in Tabernacle and Washington Township.
With warmer and more humid weather, which is conducive to crop diseases, he’ll have to find a way to keep his cranberries chilled.
“We’ll need to run the sprinklers more to cool the berries down,” said Cutts, the American Cranberry Growers Association delegate, “but that could lead to more fungal growth.”