Adapting to climate change

I have become increasingly aware of changing weather patterns and the impacts that these are starting to have on local growers. We have had dry Mays over the past few years, wet summers and milder and wet winters. This past winter however has been much colder (but still wet). The late spring has resulted in us being behind in the growing season. Some of the local hill farms have lost lambs to cold weather and slow growing grass (due to the colder weather) has resulted in animals being kept inside for longer.

Intense rainfall events are predicted to become more common with climate change and the seasons look set to remain unpredictable. It therefore begs the question: how are farmers going to adapt?

The Faces Behind Our Food

When I interviewed Alan Schofield last year he talked about how increased rainfall events had resulted in Growing With Nature changing their growing practices: “I used to grow more or less the same range of vegetables that I grow today, but I used to do things like overwinter my carrots outdoors because we didn’t have the intensity of the rainfall events that we are now seeing. I think we actually experienced one quite serious flood in our first 20 years here at Bradshaw Lane. We have experienced four quite serious floods in the last six years here.”

“Our lands are sitting wetter for longer throughout the year…Weeding is getting more of a bind because organic systems of weed control rely upon the soil being dry enough to desiccate the weeds and that takes two or three days…It’s been very difficult these last two summers to find those [dry] two or three days, so we have had to adapt the way we grow.”

“We are using…more weed control mulches…We are not growing overwintering carrots as they now rot in the ground. We have given up growing parsnips completely because our ground has become unsuitable- again due to waterlogging. We have started growing more summer crops that [grow well here e.g. squash]. These are perfect crops for us because we can…harvest them while the ground is still workable in September, and then store them inside the poly tunnels and buildings right through until January.”

The Marginal Lands project, coordinated by Leeds based researcher Dorian Speakman, has started looking at how small-scale food producers use agroecology to adapt to adverse weather conditions. Dorian visited and reviewed 23 sites across the British Isles that are severely disadvantaged to agriculture and found that growers’ experience and ingenuity are key factors in influencing adaptation and resilience to severe weather.

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