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“Paying attention to the nuances of the land, I’ve learned to grow really high quality forages, protein, and energy.”  Jack and Anne Lazor, Butterworks Farm, raise their herd of Jersey cows on pasture and high-quality forages in Westfield Vermont and produce a certified organic yoghurt.

For most Vermont farmers, the variable weather of summers from the extreme dry summer of 2016 to the wet cool summer of 2017 has proved challenging.   To meet these challenges, Jack considers increasing the organic matter content of agricultural soils as an important strategy to address many of the impacts of climate change.  The farm has doubled the organic matter content of the soils over the past 40 years. This has significant benefits for water infiltration during times of extreme precipitation, while maintaining soil moisture during dry periods.  The organic matter also improves plant growth, regulates soil temperature fluctuations, and helps resist the erosive forces of rain and flooding.  “It’s all about soil building. I want to see what I can do to increase the OM of the floodplain lands and stay off the tractor when the soil is wet.”

During years of drought, Butterworks Farm has been short on feed for their herd of Jersey cows. They have relied upon increasing their land base to provide more summer forage and more hay in the winter.  Jack noted that maintaining good grazing practices during drought was crucial to the health of the entire agroecosystem.

Specifically, his rule is grazing down to only 3-4 inch height, instead of down to the ground or only 1 inch. He said, “If you want them to regrow quickly, don’t brutalize them.” That requires more land base, which not all farmers have.

Overall, Jack is transitioning is farm land to predominantly perennial forages. “Forage consumption has increased at least 40% for our transition to grassfed, which goes along with transitioning more land out of grain into permanent forage.”

“It’s all about soil building. I want to see what I can do to increase the OM of the floodplain lands and stay off the tractor when the soil is wet.” – Jack Lazor

Business Management Decisions 

Management decisions are informed by weighing a complex set of goals, challenges, constraints and opportunities. Butterworks Farm is transitioning away from grains because there are so many challenges, some of them directly or indirectly climate related. Jack says, “Though I love it, its not financially viable.” The farm is striving the make a transition into the hands of the next generation while reasserting a strong presence in the organic dairy market, though these trends are informed by, but not driven by climate change projections.

Constraints and Challenges

Jack recounted the history of the economic successes and trials of his business over the last 40 years, explaining that when the yogurt business took off and the business was flush with cash, they were able to not only purchase extra equipment and amendments, but also invest in the ecological sustainability and climate resilience of the farm. In this way, Jack linked the farm’s capacity to invest in new adaptive management strategies directly to the financial stability of the farm and market opportunities. Since 2008, the farm has experienced a decline in skim milk yogurt sales, which has dominated much of the farm’s strategic decision-making.

Making the investment into good soil and committing to regenerative agriculture takes a leap of faith, time and money, and Jack sees that some farmers are afraid of that. In Jack’s experience on the land, he sees the return on his investments into the minerals, soil amendments, cover crops and equipment show up in the health of the soil and the plants, and then in the health of his cows and quality of milk and cream.

Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Strategies and Potential

“My main takeaway from being on the land for 40 years is you think you’re being kind to the earth, but there’s always more you can do. Everyone needs to educate themselves and make changes.” – Jack Lazor

Jack emphasized the importance of developing a carbon consciousness. Agriculture has a lot of potential to offset the greenhouse gas emissions in multiple ways. We know that some carbon is captured by perennial, reduced tillage and other systems that increase organic matter, but exactly how much is captured is difficult to measure. Further research is needed on the carbon sequestration potential of grazing systems, and innovative manure and tillage methods. We should be proactive about this, even if the exact amounts of carbon sequestration or reduction in greenhouse gas emissions are unknown- every bit counts!

Contributing author: Alissa White, Research Specialist, Agroecology Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC), visited Butterworks Farm in April 2017.  Suzy Hodgson, UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture, visited in June 2017.

Butterworks Farm is one of Vermont’s oldest certified organic dairy farms, and has a strong reputation for growing some of the finest organic grains in the state. The farm building complex and surrounding fields are situated on gently sloping fields near the border of Canada. A herd of Jersey cows produces milk which is processed on site into yogurt, kefir and rich Jersey cream for direct and wholesale markets.

Jersey cows, Butterworks Farm, photo credit: Suzy Hodgson, UVM Extension

Butterworks Farm leases and owns additional parcels in the surrounding area, including some floodplain fields. The farm has grown a diversity of whole and milled grains for regional markets, and animal feed and is currently transitioning to a 100% grassfed operation with a bedded pack system. Alissa White visited Butterworks in early April 2017 to talk to Jack Lazor about how he manages his production with the impacts of climate change in mind.

Climate Vulnerabilities

Regional climate change projections predict agriculture in the northeastern US will experience a variety of direct weather impacts, and indirect impacts as a result of climate change. For Butterworks Farm in northern Vermont, the site-specific vulnerabilities of climate change encompass potentially both direct and indirect climate change impacts.

Butterworks Farm. Photo credit: S. Hodgson, UVM Extension

Direct Climate Change Impacts

  • Warmer temperatures overall,
  • Longer warmer growing seasons,
  • Precipitation increases,
  • Extreme precipitation events,
  • Increased flood damage and erosion,
  • Severe wind and storm hazards,
  • Elevated atmospheric CO2,
  • Increased potential for drought.

Indirect climate change impacts lead to increases in:

  • Weed competition and invasive species,
  • Populations of damaging insects,
  • Incidence of plant pathogens,
  • Livestock heat stress, and
  • Pressure from pathogens and parasites of livestock.

Adapted from Janowiak et al 2016 and Tobin et al 2015

Management goals

Jack and his family balance many goals and challenges when making decisions about managing their farm. Climate concerns fall into both short and long-term decision making at Butterworks, but at the forefront of farm decision making for their family at this time are long-term financial solvency and near-term intergenerational transfer of ownership. Climate change considerations are important, but auxillary to day-to-day management and long-term planning.

How do we manage climate change and weather-related risks at the field scale?

Jack implements a number of practices on the field, specifically, managing for flooding and controlling soil erosion.  He has transitioned land which is particularly prone to flooding from grain production into permanent forage. “We’ve been farming this floodplain property for 20 years…Increased incidence of high water… could come any month of the year now… Then we only loose one cut out of three if there’s high water.” In previous years, the farm has used underseeding cover crops to limit erosion from high intensity rain events.

“We’ve been farming this floodplain property for 20 years… high water… could come any month of the year now…”

Jack Lazar, Butterworks Farm. Photo credit: Suzy Hodgson, UVM Extension

Jack attributes many benefits to crop rotations, including some that are directly associated with climate risks. His goal is to do less with tillage in all fields because he sees evidence of better soil quality and healthier plants without tillage.  By minimizing tillage and keeping roots in the ground, he maintains soil health with organic matter of 8-9%.

At the field scale, Jack is focused on increasing soil health to buffer the impacts of drought, flooding and extreme precipitation. Cover crops are planted to help hold soil from erosive forces, and land which is particularly flood prone is being transitioned into perennial forages to protect soil.

Building soil biological health and organic matter levels has multiple benefits for the farm.  Jack sees the soil health reflected in the plant growth, and in turn the health of his farm’s Jersey cows.  Increased organic matter limits the damage of extreme precipitation and holds moisture in times of drought.  In response to 2016 summer drought, Jack relied upon increasing his land base for forages and maintaining good rotational grazing practices.  In contrast, grain production has been challenging financially as it’s prone to disease during wet summers and storm events. Overall, the farm’s trajectory is towards perennial forages and away from grain production.

Contributing Author: Alissa White, Research Specialist, Agroecology Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC)
Department of Plant and Soil Science, University of Vermont

Farming for over 30 years in Shoreham, Will and Judy Stevens have noticed climate changes at their organic farm – Golden Russet Farm.  From 1985 to 1995, Will recalls having a number of late frosts in May and that the first frost date typically occurred in early September. However, in the last 20 years, there’ve been only two years where the frost date has been as early as that, with the typical frost date extending to October.

Our growing season is longer and we have more frost-free days; we’ve had years where we’ve had no May frosts and more notably the fall has gotten longer.

In addition to the changes in frost dates, Golden Russet Farm has experienced both extreme storm events, as well as excessively wet growing seasons. 2011 was a persistently wet year, starting in spring and culminating with Tropical Storm Irene in August. Golden Russet Farm was in the red that year with a $34K loss. Much of the crop loss was due to soil saturation, not event flooding per se. The farm’s soils are a layer of loam on top of a layer of clay of varying thickness (2 to14 inches), which inhibits drainage from the root zone. Learning from 2011, Will says,

I’ll take a dry year over a wet year any day. It’s easier to manage dry conditions with irrigation than to be at the mercy of heavy rain events. We’ve noticed over the years that almost every rain event is a violent event. We used to get gentle rain. Now it’s thunderstorms and violent events. With 2.5 inches of rain in an hour, we needed to get rid of the surface water as we didn’t want standing water.

In 2012, working with their existing equipment (a three-bottom moldboard plow), the Stevens built up raised beds by alternating plow passes with 12 inch dead furrows. This roughly formed 36 inch wide ‘beds’. Going to this type of raised bed did add some complications. After soil smoothing and mulching, the Stevens ended up with a final bed width of 30 inches, but this width was too narrow for the transplanter and cultivators as they risked sliding off the beds.

After several years making adjustments, the Stevens invested in a three-point hitch bed shaper in 2015, which can be pulled with their tractor to shape 34-inch beds, moving soil up from the wheel track, so that only two passes need to be made with the press pans. The 34 inch top width of the beds matches up with the cultivator and transplanter. At the same time, drip irrigation tubing is put into place as the beds are made.

Will Stevens with his bed former purchased in 2015

The Stevens started by planting carrots, lettuce, beets, and spinach in some of the raised beds, and brassicas, broccoli and corn in others. In 2016, the Stevens had 12 raised beds of tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, peppers, flowers, and 11 raised beds of garlic across their 1.5 acre field.

With the bed shaper, there’s no need to till the topsoil. In fall 2016, the Stevens bought a chisel plow with four shanks for subsoiling as their soils have a plow pan, which needs to be broken up to make the soils more friable and further improve drainage. For 2017, their plan is to increase by a third the raised bed production area so that they’ll have two acres of raised beds in 2017, and then, they’ll expand to three acres by 2018. With raised beds, Golden Russet flower sales are up 50% from 2015 to 2016.

Raised beds keep me in farming and really reduce the risk of loss, especially mitigating the losses in a bad year. If we’d had raised beds that year (2011), we’d have had fewer crops with wet feet. We lost $4000 worth of carrots, and ended with none that we could sell.”

Soil temperature changes more quickly on raised beds with greater surface area exposed to air.

Raised Bed Equipment

2015 Purchases:

Raised bed shaper              $2,700

Chisel plough -4 shanks  $2,900

Drip tape layer                    $200

These equipment purchases of $5,800 represent only 17% of the cost of the Golden Russet losses in the year of Irene, 2011. Looked at another way, this $5,800 spent in 2015 was easily recouped the next year with the $7,000 annual increase in flower sales. While Golden Russet’s overall use and related costs of irrigation are up, it’s clear that the combination of irrigation to increase yields during dry periods and raised beds to prevent losses during wet periods will result in more stable revenues over the years.

A $5800 investment in equipment for raised beds was easily recouped in one year of increased revenues.

Golden Russet’s plan to move to raised beds arose from the worst case scenario of record wetness and Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, but as Stevens says, “Even in a dry year like 2016, there’s not really a downside.”

Suzy Hodgson visited Will and Judy’s farm in February 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

While political discourse hit new lows this past year, concern for climate change hit an eight year high in 2016.

US concern for climate change

US concern for climate change

Whatever headwinds affect legislation in the new year, a number of localities, states, and organizations are taking action.

Already, 165+ jurisdictions have signed or endorsed the Under2 MOU. Together, this group including Vermont and our neighboring states, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, 7 other states and five Canadian provinces among others, represents more than 1.08 billion people and $25.7 trillion in GDP, equivalent to more than a third of the global economy.

This global compact among cities, states and provinces aims to limit the increase in global average temperature to below two degrees Celsius.  The Under 2 MOU calls for parties to aim to increase energy efficiency and develop renewable energy and to collaborate on climate change adaption and resilience efforts, scientific assessments, communication and public participation.

It is in this spirit of collaboration, communication, and adaption that UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture partnered with the USDA Northeast Climate Hub produced three videos showing Northeast farmers talking about their farms and how they’re experiencing climate change and are adapting with cropping strategies, water management and soil protection practices which mitigate climate impacts and help them farm successfully.

 

This past fall, 51.2 percent of the Northeast experienced moderate to exceptional drought, the largest extent since 2002 in the 17-year USDM record. Vermont was 3.5 F degrees warmer than its 20th century average, and this past year was the 2nd warmest year on record. period. This past fall was drier than on average, 2.38 inches less rain that the 20th century average.

In Vermont, Andy Jones, Manager, Intervale Community Farm in Burlington, VT explains how he uses irrigation to maintain soil moisture. Andy talks about his strategies in managing water, whether too much as in the summer of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 or not enough as in this past summer 2016. Andy shares his thoughts on seeding rates and timing for the cover crops which protect the Intervale’s’s soils and shows the equipment he uses.

In New Hampshire, Pooh Sprague of Edgewater Farm, explains that even though his farm location is within feet of the Connecticut River, in dry periods, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to access enough water for this crops.   With increasingly erratic weather in the CT river valley, Poo has increased his use of hoop houses to protect his crops and extend the growing season.

Farms aren’t built in a single person’s lifetime.

Not far from the Connecticut River, Upinngill Farm sits on a hillside overlooking the river valley. The second generation of farmers in the family, Sorrell grew up farming with her father and now has her own two children growing up on the farm.  She says, “farms aren’t built in a single person’s life lifetime.”

Farmers throughout the northeast are experiencing the effects of extreme weather due to climate change and are managing their farms with the resources they can find.    It’s at this community level that the Intervale Community, Edgewater, and Upinngill farms are doing their bit to adapt to the new normal of climate change.

 

This week’s scattered showers are not enough to bring relief to the sustained dry summer we’re having in Vermont. Not suprisingly, the degree to which farmers and their crops are affected depends on their access to water and their irrigation systems.

In general, Champlain Valley farmers may be faring better than their neighbors in the Pioneer Valley, Masssachusetts.  While Vermont is experiencing abnormally dry weather, much of Massachusetts is facing severe drought conditions.

Moreover, Vermont farms that have invested in irrigation systems are reaping the benefits of this prolonged warm, sunny weather balanced by regular irrigation. With normal precipitation levels in Vermont at less than three quarters of their normal amounts, maintaining soil moisture is challenging but farms with healthy soils paired with an irrigation system are well positioned for this stretch of unusually dry weather.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 12.10.26 PM

Percentage of Vermont experiencing abnormally dry weather from 2000 to 2016

In Burlington, Vermont, the Intervale Community Farm (ICF) started building its irrigation system 20 years ago.

We’re fortunate for being in the floodplain that we have abundant water supply with a main stem river and also some large high capacity wells in the floodplain – it has made us a much more resilient farm as we can contend with dry periods by using a mix of sprinkler and drip irrigation,” says Andy Jones, ICF’s farm manager.

Summers are hotter, the highs are higher, the existing soil moisture evaporates, and the plants transpire it more.  We use drip irrigation where we have plants that don’t want water on the leaves or that are spaced far apart so we can get some real weed control benefits and some water efficiency benefits by not watering the whole area. For winter squash, melons, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, peppers, we use sprinklers and for almost everything else, drip irrigation.

However, drip lines can be problematic for organic farms, which are using mechanical cultivation as their main weed control tool. As Andy describes, “it can be pretty challenging to move drip out of the way If you want to go through there every week with a tractor. Every time you’re moving the drip line and when you go back and weed, you have to move the drip line and then when you want to irrigate again, the irrigation line is not in the right place.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 12.22.36 PM

Andy describes that ICF’s sprinklers are spaced much farther apart so it’s easier to do routine weeding along with irrigating. There are also some cooling benefits from irrigation on a hot day with cool weather crops. And crops like greens and brassicas are hard to germinate in sandy soil without top water.

Andy points out the certain crops such as carrots, spinach, beets need water coming from above in order to germinate.  Drip lines don’t typically spread the water wide for germination of these crops to occur.

Covering 20 acres of their production field, ICF’s main sprinkler and drip irrigation system is a mix of old and new equipment.  Over the years, the farm’s investment in irrigation amounts to about $35,000.


I can’t imagine growing vegetables on sandy soil in a warm place like the Champlain Valley without irrigation – it’s absolutely critical to maintain crop quality and growth for a lot of our crops.”


Challenging conditions on Massachusetts Farms and Relief in Sight

Given this summer’s particularly dry conditions, irrigation can make the difference between a great harvest and poor harvest for many crops. Our neighbors in the Pioneer Valley, MA are taking a big hit. From crop loss to delaying second plantings, farmers without irrigation systems,  are holding out for rain, trying to catch up with laying irrigation lines, and even recruiting more workers and volunteers for hand watering.

In response to a UMass Extension survey, 80% of MA farm respondents are losing at least 30% of a specific crop. This data will determine whether USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) in Massachusetts can seek federal disaster assistance.   In order to seek a disaster declaration and relief for Massachusetts’s farmers, the Farm Service Agency requires documentation of the extent of crop loss for each county.

While climate change in Northeast has meant a trend of warmer and wetter weather, this precipitation is occurring as more extreme episodic events and not necessarily when it’s needed, during the growing season. While five years ago we had record Lake levels and extreme flooding, for the past several summers, we’ve experience extended dry and hot periods in the Champlain Valley.   Farms like the Intervale Community Farm that have invested in irrigation systems and planned their system according to crop and soil type are well positioned to have a bumper year.

Irrigation has been essential as otherwise we would have lost so many crops as irrigation allows us not only to keep things growing and bulking up, but other crops we can’t even germinate without irrigation so it’s the difference between a crop and no crop.

Drought assistance can be found by contacting your County’s FSA office, USDA’s drought program assistance.  Information and technical assistance on developing a resilient farming strategy and building soil health in the face of climate change can be found at UVM Extension’s Center for Sustainable Strategy.

June 5, 2016. Temperature 70 degrees F and heavy rains of up to 3/4 inch.  Not outside the normal daily average of 52 to 74 degrees on this day and a daily rainfall  likely to be within the monthly averages. However, the current weather can obscure us from thinking clearly about climate change aka global warming.   Here’s a snapshot of what three farmers are saying about climate change and how they’re responding or not.

Our greenhouse has really beefed us up in terms of season extension.  When people’s gardens are failing, we have a really good crop of tomatoes and cucumbers.

By getting crops in and out of the ground faster, short rotations, we can manage our cash flow.

Global warming is not that simple – some summers are warmer, but some some summers are cooler.  We don’t have a new game plan. We haven’t changed our planting and harvesting schedules.

Upin

These anecdotes indicate that we don’t yet have a pattern to how farmers are responding to the Northeastern trend of warmer and wetter weather with more frequent heavy rain events.  The variability of weather and the significance of site, soils, and infrastructure adds a lot of variables to the assessment as well as noise to the anecdotes.   It may be only a matter of time until a clearer picture forms; as we talk to and share more experiences of Vermont farmers responding to longer-term weather trends, a pattern of adaption should start to emerge

As NOAA succinctly says, “the difference between weather and climate is a measure of time.”  It reminds me of what one farmer told me, “you can’t call yourself a real farmer until you’ve farmed at least 20 seasons.”   Years of practice, trial and error, we do know that many best practices go hand in hand with adaptation.

Adapting to climate change is playing the long game so in fact, our search for questions and adaptation answers has only really started.

Normal temperatures at the end of March in Burlinton, VT are typically in the mid 40s like today.  Over Easter weekend, it was 16 degrees warmer than normal. With the warmest winter on record, what does this mean for Vermont farmers?

Revisiting Tamarack Hollow Farm, I checked in with co-owner Amanda Andrews. How is your new location working out?

Our new farm was great last season and held up during the heavy spring rains while our old farm was flooding. That said, heavy rains continue to be a worry, and so we are planning with erosion in mind.

To control erosion, we are planting low-growing cover crops between beds, moving towards a permanent raised bed system. We also installed drainage tile in one field with heavier soils to ensure it dries out quickly, even with heavy storms.

Spring is coming early this year – did we even have winter?   How has this affected your plans? Any thoughts on pests and diseases?

greens in hoophouse intervale

“With the warm winter, we are expecting heavier pest and disease pressure, so we are planning to use more row covers to control insects – and the diseases they spread.”

“Certain vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers), we are only growing in tunnels. I am growing additional varieties of greens this season, especially looking for heat and disease tolerance as the three month forecast looks like a warm spring and summer.”

 

Andy Jones manages the Intervale Community Farm, all of which lies within the 100-year floodplain of the Winooski River. Last week, I sat down with Andy in his office to hear his perspective on the farm and his strategy for adapting to the extreme weather of climate change.

We are subject to the whims of the river. When I started in 1993, the typical pattern was spring flooding, snowmelt flowing, all related to how much snow pack was in the hills. And when the weather warmed, rain hit the snow pack and came rushing down to lake and inundated some fields. The flood plain looks very flat but it is actually sloping and there are a lot of minor surface undulations, a foot here and foot there make a great deal of difference in terms of actual flooding.Andy Jones

Every speck of ground and building is located within the 100-year of floodplain including where we are right now (in the farm office). The main reason it’s remained in agriculture within the city limits of Burlington is because it’s within the 100-year floodplain. If that were not the case, it would have been housing or something else long ago.

Andy stands in a long tradition of farming at the Intervale. As he acknowledges, “long ago, the land was recognized as quality productive farmland; native peoples farmed here for hundreds of years. Ethan Allen was granted all of it in the 18th century; it’s been farmed entirely throughout the centuries. It’s productive farmland, albeit subject to flooding.”

Was Tropical Storm Irene a game changer?

Water management and flooding have always been our major challenges; the biggest risk factors are not insects, diseases, or market disruptions, but the omnipresent risk and the potential catastrophic outcome of the big flood.

In 2011, when Tropical Storm Irene dumped on us, we were heavily impacted; the entire farm, save 2 acres, was underwater. All of our high land that usually does not flood was flooded and we lost about 12 – 13 acres of crops, which were in the ground.


Unlike a lot of other people, we’d been preparing because we were accustomed to being in a floodplain and having to salvage crops and to move equipment out of harm’s way.


In hindsight we should have started earlier. We certainly didn’t have any idea about the scale and the magnitude; we were expecting a bad flood – we weren’t expecting an Epic flood.

After Irene, Andy explains, there were some things he really had to look at hard. “We expected to have a rough spring the following year and while we didn’t make our spring numbers, we were pretty close, 94-95% of our target. By the following year we were back on track in spades.”

Did the cooperative structure make a difference in customer and membership support?

I think the cooperative structure in the broad sense of the word ‘cooperative’, not necessarily in the legal sense of the word. For some people, the legal cooperative is important and the fact that they own it and have a stake in it is a motivating factor for their commitment. More people joined the co-op as members providing $200 to the farm through their co-op equity membership. For the larger percentage, it’s  more about their relationship, they know the farm, they know the people who are the growers, and they understand that we are all in this together.  We came up with an arrangement which works for everybody and that was really powerful.


It’s really more about their relationship, they know the farm, the growers, and they understand that we are all in this together…


A number of farmers who were direct market growers were dependent on farmers markets where everything just evaporated. But for us, we had this on-going business because we had people who we were talking to us, to whom we were sending our newsletter, and we were holding events.

From marketing standpoint, I was impressed with the commitment of CSA membership and the model did help us through the overall catastrophe. In order for it to be successful, you need to have a relationship with the CSA members and a good track record.

How does the floodplain make a difference in farm management?

Even though the trend has been toward crazy precipitation episodes, we don’t suffer as much because we have a lot of very sandy well-drained soil.


The irony is the floodplain is dangerous and forgiving at the same time.


We do have about 1/3 of our land that is fairly silty, considerably lower, and more flood prone, so with that land, since Irene, we’ve made some adjustments. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to count on the wetter land to be able to plant early crops and always have to wait and plant crops.

How are you predicting the odds of the weather and evening out production?

When we expect to plant varies year to year, not before the 2nd week of May, sometimes early June. Silty soils hold moisture better so have less moisture stress compared to sandy soils. We’ve been planting later for 20 years but we have lost significant crops in lower fields in the past 5 years, so we plant crops which we can more afford to lose, and which turn over quickly such as lettuce, spinach, and salad greens. With a quick maturation rate, if they’re lost, we can still replant. With the winter share, we’re dependent on growing a lot of root crops, which we need to store. We can’t lose these, as we’re reliant on them for the long sweep of the seasons.

How are you managing different soil types in flood prone areas?

For our silty soils, we bought a raised bed builder a few years ago. We’re not using this on sandy soils as the water drains away. While raised beds don’t help us in the flooding situation, they help in intense precipitation events (2-3 inches or when we have consecutive wet weeks) by preventing saturated soils and root death.

On the sandy side of the farm, we rely a lot on irrigation and we have for 20 years so we have invested in irrigation equipment. And we expect that every year we will irrigate.   Last year, August was dry and we were irrigating our vegetables twice a week.

For us, irrigation has been essential; otherwise, we would have lost so many crops as irrigation allows us not only to keep things growing and bulking up, but other crops we can’t even germinate without irrigation.


For us, irrigation is the difference between a crop and no crop.


One of the things we’re blessed with in the Northeast is plenty of water and in this location in particular we have great water resources.  We have a big river going by and the ground water is relatively shallow so when we had a well put in to feed our greenhouses, the well drillers we’re so excited that we could get 800 gallons a minute for nothing.

In managing flood prone soils, what benefits have you seen?

Coming back full circle, where we started is to really trying to concentrate resources on the more secure parts of the farm, so that’s the sandy fields. Although we have issues with low organic matter and water management, they are more secure and resilient to weather extremes. We push the yields in a concentrated area, make sure we’re really on top of our game with weed control, irrigation, really optimizing the growth of everything in those areas. When we’re spread out over wider area, we don’t really pay attention to any one thing.

Since Irene, have you suffered more losses due to too much water?

Nothing major. Last year, we lost in late May and early June; we lost ¼ acre – 1/3 acre of spinach and lettuce and 20% of our potato crop. In the whole scheme of things in terms of overall farm output, it was less than 5%.

How are you using cover for erratic weather?

Tunnels are major element of overall planned resiliency and an example of concentrating production. We’ve moved all our tomatoes and almost all our peppers inside which contributed to better yields and profitability for both those crops. And it allowed us to grow throughout the year. Since tomatoes are 10% of our overall value and baby salad greens are about the same, if we can take 20-25% of the farm revenue and shelter that from a lot of the weather extreme, that’s been really good.

Intervale Community Farm, March 2016

Intervale Community Farm, March 2016

Have you diversified your market to response to climate change effects?

We haven’t done a lot to diversify our markets and I don’t think that would really help us be more resilient because our market is not our chief constraint.  Having that close relationship with our CSA members is as strong and as favorable a market as we could possibly have for weathering climate disruptions.

In general, I don’t think our market has shifted in response to climate change. But I think the fundamental premise of security and diversity in our crops has proven itself in response to upheavals in the weather and climate.  Years that it’s cold and wet we have super greens, brassicas, and onion crops which people enjoy, and years when it’s hot and dry, we have excellent melons, tomatoes, and peppers. Almost no matter the weather, we have some things that are really thriving.

If a new farmer came in here today, what advice would you give to her or him?

If they were in a floodplain, I would say, try and get the land that’s the highest land you can, as there are lots of floodplains I’d not recommend people to start a farm or grow vegetables on. It’s pretty hard to build your business without having at least some significant % of your land that is not very flood prone.

So I’d say make sure you have some high land, try to concentrate your production as much as you can on that land, have tunnels, grow a lot of different crops, make sure you either have a highly diverse market or you have a highly committed market – in our case we have a highly committed market.  As Andy advises and concludes our talk,


Pay attention to establishing a strong track record of growing good produce in the years that you’re not hampered. Then any goodwill you’ve engendered during that time will be needed and you’ll  have it banked against disruptions down the road.


 

Intervale sign

 

 

 

 

More than just dirt, our soils are alive. Healthy soil ecosystems, like ones found in nature, are dynamic and complex. Plants, microbes and fungi work together to cycle nutrients, filter water, and regulate the climate. When treated correctly and allowed to function properly, soils can do wonders for the productivity of a farm and the quality of food it produces, and Vermont farmers are starting to take notice.

Cover crops show healthy soil where soil and roots are one system

Cover crops show healthy soil where soil and roots are one system.

At the 5th annual Vermont Farm to Plate Gathering, farmers, community members and scientists came together to discuss the inseparable link between healthy soils, clean water, and good food. Success stories of higher yields from no-till fields and saving money from using less pesticides and herbicides were shared, showing that paying attention to soil health pays off. Though some soil conservation practices may go against conventional techniques, one thing is clear: the healthiest and most successful farms are taking care of their soils by farming like nature.


Plant and soil are one and need each other to function properly.


Nature’s time-tested processes have allowed organisms to survive on this planet for billions of years. It’s time for us to use these processes to our advantage, an idea known  “biomimicry”. In the natural world, forests and prairies flourish without pesticides or plows. Trees and plants remain year-round, their leaves nourish the soil in the fall and their roots hold water and soil in place when it rains. Come springtime, these ecosystems are teeming with growth and life. Nature knows how to farm.

Key-note speaker Ray “The Soils Guy” Archuleta spoke passionately and urgently about farming like nature. (Hear Ray on Across the Fence.) According to Ray, “healthy soil is covered all year round,” just like in nature. Cover crops are the most essential component of restoring and maintaining soil health. Plant and soil are one and need each other to function properly. Plants keep the soil cool and moist, and retain soil structure with their roots. Plants take energy from the sun and feed the microbes, which in exchange pull more nutrients from the soil to the plant.  Allowing these natural processes to occur significantly decreases the need to purchase and apply additional chemicals and fertilizers that may runoff and damage local waterways during heavy precipitation events.


Healthy soil is covered all year round – just like in nature.


When soil is kept in place and macropores are allowed to form, water quality impacts from agricultural runoff and sedimentation are greatly reduced. Soils also play a large role in regulating carbon. Tilling breaks apart the link between plant and soil, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and depriving microorganisms of their food. Soils become starved, and fail to function properly. But when covered with detritus and plants, soils sequester that carbon and use it for growth instead.

When Ray Archuleta visits a farm, the first thing he looks for is how the soil in the field compares to soil in the forest. If the soils are healthy, a shovel-full from each should look the same, with a layer of detritus, or organic matter, on top, and soil aggregates clinging to the roots of plants on the bottom.

Is your soil bare or covered? Learn more about the secrets in the soil by watching the videos on Ray’s Soil Health Page.

Contributor: Michelle Graziosi, the ECO AmeriCorps Water Quality Research Technician at UVM Extension’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture, attended her first Vermont Farm to Plate gathering.   Michelle graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May with a B.S. in Environmental Sciences.

On-farm and field trials in Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont show that cover cropping produces a number of financial benefits for farmers and wider environmental benefits for the community. Cover cropping increases soil organic matter (aka carbon) and microbial diversity while suppressing weeds and stabilizing soils, which can help farmers transition to organic methods as well as improve their agricultural practices cost-effectively. Fields with a cover crop have less erosion and less runoff, meaning nutrients stay in the soils, better not only for soil quality and crop yields, but also for preserving water quality and ecosystem health.


Fields with a cover crop experience less erosion and less runoff, meaning minerals stay in the soils, better not only for soil quality and crop yields, but also for preserving water quality, ecosystem, and climate health.


While the benefits of cover crops researched by Northeast Extension teams in crop, field, and soils are clear, the prescribed planting methods, timing, and seeding rates need careful consideration for successful seed establishment and sufficient cover growth depending on a number of factors including the site conditions, harvesting schedules, and farmer circumstances.

In Westford, Vermont, a cover crop of radish, rye, turnip, and white clover was successfully seeded after corn was harvested at Tony Pouliot’s farm under the guidance of UVM Extension agronomy expert Heather Darby.

Pouliot was pleased to see his soil protected, the most valuable asset of his farm as you can see in this Across the Fence video.  Heather Darby and her team at UVM Northwest Soils and Crops provide invaluable advice to Vermont farmers in choosing appropriate cover crop seed mix, deciding on the methods and timing of planting whether before or after harvesting the cash crop, and many specifics related to the farm’s cropping systems, equipment available, location, topography and soil types.

A 2014 Cornell cover crop experiment with soybeans no-till planted into mulch from a winter cover crop at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub showed that a farm’s net profit was highest when seeding rates were double the recommended seeding rates of conventional soybean production. Five planting densities were compared and the crop population, weed suppression, and crop yields were measured.  Matthew Ryan’s report on cover cropping strategies and his research projects are part of Cornell Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab.

Cropping strategies for Organic Food Grain Crop Production, Matthew Ryan

Cropping strategies for Organic Food Grain Crop Production, Matthew Ryan

UVM Extension’s Northwest Crops and Soils program produces guidance and tips on interseeding cover crops for Vermont farmers growing feedstock such as corn and soybeans. Advice concerns the timing of seeding, the level and depth of seeding, available labor and proper equipment, and altering other management practice (e.g. pesticide applications and tillage), which would harm cover crops.

Roller crimper turns cover crop into mulch for cash crop

Roller crimper turns cover crop into mulch for cash crop


The benefits of cover cropping reach beyond the farmer to the community and the climate.


Importantly, research has found that cover cropping may have no negative impact on corn yields and can sometimes have a positive yield effect. When over-wintered cover crops are “terminated” with a roller crimper in the spring, the mulch mat, which is formed suppresses weeds during the growing season for cash crops. In addition to increased profits to the farmer, the energy savings related to less diesel fuel used, less fertilizers and pesticides applied, result in less greenhouse gas emissions from the farm. The benefits of cover cropping reach beyond the farmer to the community and the climate.

 

 

 

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