Weather conditions dictate many of the decisions made in farming – when to prepare a field for planting, when to remove weeds, when to plant, when to irrigate, when to harvest.
The timing of these decisions determines the amount and quality of the crop that we harvest. In short, the success of our business.
Being a successful farmer involves a lot of looking into a crystal ball to figure out what future weather conditions will be.
The Different Scales of Weather
There are two types of “scales” of weather that impact farming.
The first are short-term weather conditions – will it rain tomorrow?
What will the night-time low temperature be?
What will the high be?
What direction is the wind blowing from?
To answer these types of questions, I use five different weather apps and my own observations and experience of local weather patterns.
And then based off of my best knowledge of what the weather is going to do and the characteristics of the crop, we till, we cultivate, we disk, we plant, we roll a crop, we fertilize, we weed, we flood a rice paddy, we harvest, we plow. Or we wait.
The second scale of weather that impacts farming is overarching climate patterns.
When does a season begin?
When does it end?
How long is a season?
How hot will it get?
When is the rain cycle?
What is the average rainfall?
What is the rain intensity?
Climate change has completely altered the answers to these questions, and has added an extraordinary level of unpredictability to regular weather patterns. There is no longer a general sense of what we can expect in a regular growing season.
Impacts on the Ground
I do not know a single farmer who is not being impacted by changing climate patterns.
Two summers ago, we had an unseasonably cold July. The cold hit right when the rice was flowering. It greatly reduced yields.
Winter in our area is normally the rainy season. We hardly had any rain in December and January. The lack of rain meant low germination of our fall-planted grains.
The past few summers have had very intense rainstorms that have flooded the area in a way that should occur a few times a century.
Even farmers who grow food in greenhouses and hoop houses are impacted by stronger storms that – at least in our area – are capable of wrecking infrastructure.
Managing Climate Change
Climate change for us includes longer periods without rain, more intense rainfall, decreasing water availability, stronger storms, higher average temperatures, and who knows what else.
I have started to prepare the farm for increasingly unpredictable weather conditions and changing climate patterns.
Last summer, we made improvements and did serious maintenance to our water drainage system. The goal is to be able to withstand higher-intensity rainstorms without the level of flooding that can damage a harvest.
This week, we finalized a research proposal with a university in Tuscany to experiment with rice-growing techniques that decrease water use. I hope the project gets funded.
We are just at the beginning of the process to make our farm system more resilient to – and capable of withstanding and recovering from – changing climate patterns and unpredictable weather conditions.
In the past week, I am happy to report that we finally got some much-needed rain.
— Ariane Lotti