(Photo courtesy of The New York Times). “Various foods on a table.”
Major challenges in food sustainability are problems local farmers face as they grapple with the repercussions of climate change. New England farmers need to deal with rising temperatures that can negatively affect their crop yields and the nutritional value of common crops people eat. Yet, the Massachusetts State Government, UMass Lowell and farmers in New England will not be complacent and are actively taking steps to overcome said challenges.
Among all the individuals and organizations involved in the local food industry, farmers are most impacted by climate change in this region and are supported by the state and federal governments and universities to help them increase their crop yields and grow healthy foods for Americans. The specific challenges farmers face in New England are rising humidity rates that can spread fungal growth on crops and unsafe working conditions caused by rising temperatures. Joseph Kapusansky, an alumnus of UMass Lowell and current graduate student at Tufts University Master’s Program of Nutrition Science and Policy, said:
“Rising humidity rates are problematic for fungal growth. Tomato and squash varietals are sensitive to blight and mildew, respectively. Tomato blight and powdery mildew will essentially end the season for those crops, as the plants need to be entirely disposed of … Another thing to consider is how climate change impacts the working conditions and welfare of farmers. Over the past century, the average temperature in the northeast has risen about 1.8 [degrees Fahrenheit], and temperatures exceeding 80, depending on the relative humidity, can severely affect safety.”
It is important to note that climate change affects farmers around the world differently, so people from different regions of the world will face more unique challenges compared to the challenges farmers face here in New England. In this region, the humidity and the heat are the most prominent challenges facing local farmers. In general, climate change negatively affects the sustainability of the food supply and decreases nutrients in the foods that people eat.
Changes in soil fertility, rainfall patterns and crop yields exacerbated by climate change affect the macro- and micronutrients in the crops people consume. Considering many factors influence the nutrients found in the local and global food supply, a holistic approach is needed by local and national governments, research universities and farmers to tackle the complex challenge of nutritional deficiency in the crops grown on farms.
The state governments in the United States provide financial resources to farmers to adapt to climate change through research and business development. “Some state [governments] offer incentives to farms that incorporate climate impact mitigation into their business model,” said Kapusansky. “This can be grants toward infrastructure and equipment. Some programs even offer to fund participation in agricultural research.” Additionally, UMass Lowell Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy conducts experiments on environmental mitigation involving rainwater collection and biomass heating systems. “The Rist Greenhouse on East Campus is a great example of on-site environmental mitigation efforts. It was funded through MDAR [Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources] and some of the projects I knew of in my time there involved rainwater collection and biomass heating systems,” Kapusansky said.
Lastly, Kapusansky added that farmers themselves are practicing old and new techniques to keep their crops healthy. He said, “Responsible crop rotation is generally seen as a best agricultural practice and can mitigate generational pest presence. Another popular trend of no-till/low-till practices seeks to reduce soil erosion by turning soil only to a certain depth, and going even further, regenerative soil practices move toward the realm of food forests and permaculture.” Crop rotation and low tilling of the soil are a few practices New England farmers are doing to move their farms toward an environmentally sustainable path that is good for human health and the planet.