Archive for August, 2015


Many thanks to Catherine Lowther of Goddard College for this contribution and guest post:

Nate and Jessie Rogers grow grains and keep a small herd of Jersey cows at their farm on the Dog River in Berlin, Vermont. They grow, harvest, and mill their own grain, and they sell their whole wheat flour, rolled oats, and milk on Saturdays at the Montpelier Farmers’ Market and at their farm stand.

Working with the river…

The main climate change issue the Rogers have experienced is river flooding caused by heavy rains. They bought their farm four years ago after the property was flooded during Tropical Storm Irene. The farm has one mile of river frontage and the fields were completely flooded, the house was damaged, and the previous owners had to go out of business.  A foot of sand had to be removed to restore the fields and a two-acre chunk of land washed away.  When Nate and Jessie first moved to the farm, they wondered if they should fill the horseshoe-shaped area back in, but decided against it after consulting with scientists from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR).RogersFarm

This loss of land also eventually led to work with The Vermont Land Trust, who offered to purchase a river corridor easement from them, in effect paying them to take some of their cropland out of use. With the erosive nature of their soil and the susceptibility of their fields to flood damage, they decided to accept the easement. The easement is fifty feet wide and centered on the middle of the river channel. They can’t farm the land that is within the easement, but they can plant trees in this corridor to stabilize the riverbanks.

Outside of the easement, the Rogers have planted all their river fields in grasses and perennial crops to keep the soil covered and keep it from washing away. This means they have 20 acres of river fields that they can’t use as part of their rotation for grains, but is still in some sort of agricultural production and also addresses their bigger concern of soil loss and downstream water quality.  They see the importance of water quality, and work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the ANR to make sure they have a healthy river that can function properly, while they still farm the land.

 

Catherine Lowther, PhD

Catherine is faculty in the Sustainability Program, and Chair of the Sustainability Committee at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT.  We will be collaborating with her and her students on several blog posts during this project.  Many thanks for their contributions!   

Expecting the Unexpected – Dairy Farming and climate change in Vermont

In our first interview of  this series, Moving to Higher Ground, we talked to Amanda Andrews, owner of Tamarack Hollow Farm about her decision to move to higher ground.  In this blog, we check in with Yves Gonnet, owner of Midnight Goat Farm, who also recently moved to higher ground;  he relocated his dairy goat farm from the Huntington valley to the Huntingdon hills in Vermont.

Midnight goat's new dairy barn

Midnight goat’s new dairy barn

Here are some snippets from recent conversations.

Well Suzy, it’s May 4 2015 we’re expecting the temps to hit 78 with 12mph winds gusting up to 21mph mid day.  As a lay person who farms goats, bushes and bacteria, I have noticed some things in the past decade.  I think the operative words are extreme and unpredictable.  Colder longer, hotter faster and much much wetter (at times).

July 10, 2015.   I wish we could have 3 straight days of sun.  It is getting old watching hay go to seed or get pounded into the ground by rain.

July 20, 2015.  Headline weather: “Hail, Thunderstorms and Flooding Hammer New England.”  Hail the size of tennis balls fell in New Hampshire. The day will likely end up as one of the top five hottest for this summer in New England. The heat index is close to 100 in southern New England.  

In Northwest Vermont, we’re spared the hailstones, but we’re sweltering with hot temperatures, then hit with heavy rains.  Hand milking goats is quite the workout.

August 11, 2015  Heavy rain in most parts of Vermont.  We’ve had 50% more rainfall since June 1, when compared to National Weather Service’s recorded normal climate as measured from 1981 to 2010.

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Yves Gonnet herding his dairy goats at his farm, Midnight Goat.

Center for Sustainable Agriculture, CSA So how does a dairy goat farmer manage weather in Vermont?  Can you describe your decision-making to move your farm to higher ground?  What role did climate change play?

Yves: We moved our farm operation to higher ground to help avoid the issues we had with flooding, increased water levels and encroaching wetlands.  We settled recently in a spot three miles from where we had been, but 500 feet higher in elevation.  A nearby water source was important to us so we selected a property, which is bounded by the Baker Brook, a year round protected waterway.  Over the past seven years, we have seen the weather extremes become more intense and have sought greater elevation and easily drainable landscape to help us buffer these extremes.  Where we had been located we were more and more frequently finding ourselves trapped by the Cobb Brook unable to get our goats to pasture.

 


Over the past seven years, we have seen the weather extremes become more intense and have sought greater elevation and easily drainable landscape to help us buffer these extremes.


 

CSA:  Have the weather-related effects of climate change been what you expected?  Have they been manageable?

Yves: I don’t think we are in a position anymore to expect weather.  It is more a matter of reacting to what it is.  So far we have been able to cope with this year’s extremes fairly well, but are always learning how to improve our systems for new surprises.

CSA:  When and how did you make the decision to move to higher ground?

Yves: We started looking for our new spot a couple years ago.  Our criteria was pretty specific so it took some time to find.  We started building fall 2014.


We moved our farm operation to higher ground- 500 feet higher in elevation. –  to help avoid the issues we had with flooding, increased water levels and encroaching wetlands. 


CSA: What particular site characteristics were you looking for beyond higher ground?

Yves: We looked for southern exposure, goat forage, fruit trees, maple forest, running water and sufficient acreage.

CSA:  Moving forward, are you planning for weather changes due to climate change?

Yves: Absolutely.  We have made ourselves much more autonomous.  We provide our own solar power, have over sized waste water systems and water supplies and plan to continue to build systems, which make us less vulnerable to weather changes.

Midnight goat - barn

Solar panels on Midnight Goat Farm’s barn

CSA:  Are climate change effects affecting your goats and kidding?  If so, how?  And how are you dealing with this?

Yves: The extreme cold of this March made kidding more difficult and dangerous for the newborns.  Fortunately, we were prepared, from prior January kiddings, for cold and quick changing weather.  We have divided the kidding areas into well protected spaces, which allow for spot heating and complete enclosure when necessary.  We employ heated kidding boxes for newborns and have internet accessible cameras installed to monitor expectant does and their offspring.


We employ heated kidding boxes for newborns and have internet accessible cameras installed to monitor expectant does and their offspring.


CSA:  Is there any advice you would like to give to other farmers about climate change and its effects?

Yves: Be prepared for unpredictable weather and shortages of feed.  Don’t take water for granted.

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