University of Georgia climatologist Pam Knox and Carrie Furman, also of UGA as well as the Southeast Climate Consortium, led a session called “Hot, Wet, & Weird: What To Expect and What To Do About Climate Change in Georgia” at the 17th Annual Georgia Organics Conference on Feb. 22. Here’s what they talked about!
Climate change is a hot topic of debate, and has been for decades. The weather is a farmer’s most faithful friend and foe, and it’s changing in Georgia. The changes are slight, but they are real. And as farmers know, a little change can make a big difference.
Pam Knox is an Agricultural Climatologist with the University of Georgia. She looks at long-term weather variables, like temperature and precipitation, in terms of trends. While there may be enormous variation from year to year, she is more concerned with the variation of a decade, or of several decades. Carrie Furman is an Anthropologist with the University of Georgia. She studies the different coping strategies that farmers have for dealing with these changes in weather patterns.
Trends in Temperature
In Georgia, average annual temperatures have dropped – that’s right, dropped – about half a degree, if we look at records all the way back to 1895. However, if we only take into account records since 1960 average annual temperatures rose by about four degrees.
Trends in Water
If we look at records going back to 1895, average annual rainfall in inches has stayed the same. However, wet and dry seasons are shifting. Winter, Spring, and Summer are getting dryer, and Fall is getting wetter. We’re also looking at more frequent periods of drought than we faced in the past. Instead of having our rainfall spread out over the course of the year, we’ll be getting it in short bursts.
Most people who study weather patterns, and predict future weather patterns, agree that the Southeastern United States is going to get hotter – anywhere from 5 to 10 degrees hotter – in the next 100 years. Expert opinion is divided on rainfall. So what does this mean for the Georgia Farmer?
There are two basic ways to cope. One is reactionary. We can irrigate more, spray more, and buy more crop insurance.
The other option is to build a system that can withstand the stresses of climate change. That system could include succession planting, crop diversification, and healthy soil that is more able to tolerate drought.
But, whatever your coping strategy, it should also include people. According the Furman, “Social strategies have a lot to do with a farmer’s social network – who they go to for assistance, information … Who helps them.”
Times are changing, and we have to change with them. We need a network of farmers, scientists, and extension agents who are willing to share their observations, and their strategies for meeting challenges with the farming community as much as possible. We must think hard about (and communicate to others) what worked and what didn’t. We need a base of educated consumers who understand the pressures of the market, and who stick with us through hard times. You find folks like that more so at a farmers market than a typical grocery store.
In some places, this community is already beginning to coalesce. Love is Love Farm’s Judith Winfrey talked about the many volunteers who helped re-build their farm after a flood in 2010:
“The truth is that we’ve experienced two floods this fall: one of destruction and one of support. Both are humbling. It is a vital part of our jobs: providing meaning and connection to a place through food. And this is the hidden beauty in this tragedy: a vision of a functioning local food economy. It works because it’s about more than producing and purchasing food close to home. It’s about valuing place and people and creating vibrant, resilient communities that can never be washed away.”