Climate Food Challenges
Climate Change Local Food Production
We are already seeing the beginnings of challenges that the Katuah Bioregion will face from climate change. It is pertinent that we document these challenges so that farmers, gardeners, and environmental planners can develop plans to keep or food growing sustainable and resilient. We present a brief list of the challenges climate change is already starting to present to local growing conditions.
Warmer Winters with Less Snow
Over the last decade many winters have been warmer than was typical more than thirty years ago. Some impacts of this change quite evident, some are subtle.
The region has had less snow. Winter snow tends to soak slowly into the ground increasing ground water. The reduction in snow reduces ground water retention. Should climate change continue to reduce the winter snow, we will need to develop alternative methods to retain moisture in our soil through the winter.
The warmer winters have led to perennials blooming much earlier. It’s becoming common to see perennials such as cherry trees and apple trees bloom a few weeks, even more than a month earlier than was typical in the past. This has a few notable negative impacts. When a normal spring frost occurs it kills the early blooms. With the blooms dead the fruits don’t produce that year. Sometimes branches or entire plants die off when warm winters lead to early blooming. Some plants are now blooming earlier than the arrival of their pollinators. This change reduces the total output of many crops and threatens the pollinators. Honey production is severely compromised when an early warming is followed by a late frost.
Winter snow and cold can significantly reduce the populations of various insect pests. Warm winters contribute to a proliferation of insect pests. Some endangered trees and insects are already threatened by insects whose populations would be reduced by colder winters. Our crops may face similar challenges.
Summer Droughts with Dry Winds
Summer droughts are becoming more common and more severe. In the first decade of this millennium at least 6 summers were droughts, one record-setting. With the droughts come hot dry winds. The dry winds can quickly drain moisture from plowed soils. To confront the challenge of summer droughts we need soil management techniques that retain moisture better than plowed soil can. We will also need more water back-up systems such as ponds, cisterns, and rain barrels.
Wet Summers & Winter Cold Snaps
Even while warmer winters and drier summers become more common, we find that weather patterns can lock up on the other side also. In the last decade the region had a record setting cold snap when a locked weather system sent unusually warm winds into the arctic driving unusually cold winds down the eastern USA. During a decade with 6 summer droughts we had two summers where weather patterns locked into persistent rains. The persistent wet weather didn’t give crops sufficient time to dry between rains. This spread fungal diseases killing most of the regions tomatoes and various other fruits. That made eight out ten summers difficult for food growers either as a result of drought or excess moisture.
Wind Spread Dust & Fungus
The strong high altitude winds that lock weather patterns can also carry dust and fungus great distances. This increases the risk of fungal crop diseases spreading rapidly from other regions of the world to our region. To prepare for this risk we need greater bio-diversity in our crops to increase the chances of having resistant strains.
Competition with wild animals
We have seen a few years where drought or late frost limited production in our gardens. The weather also limited production of food for animals in the mountains including wild blueberries and acorns. Hungry animals, such as bear, left the mountains and came into our neighborhoods in search of food. This added even more challenges to gardeners and home owners.
We now call our permaculture experts to guide us in finding the best methods to help us confront these challenges.