Climate change’s impact on local farmers


November 11, 2019

HATFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) — The global population is expected to hit 10 billion people by 2050 and securing enough food to feed that number is a growing concern for policymakers.

Farming is under increased pressure to produce more crops in a healthier and more sustainable way. This comes as an estimated 50-percent of all human-made methane – a dangerous greenhouse gas – comes from producing rise and raising cattle.

So what is the state of our local farms and how are they dealing with the changing climate?

Farming isn’t just a way of life for Harrison Bardwell. You could say it’s in his DNA.

Bardwell is a nine generation farmer in Hatfield. His land has been in the family since 1685.

“Being here for so many years or having heritage here going back kinda feels like we are connected to soil and earth here,” Bardwell said.

The Connecticut River valley has some of the best soil in the entire world. Still, farming is not easy and the changing climate makes it even more difficult in recent years.

“Heavy winds and flooding are just constant now. I don’t remember the last time we got a nice steady rain for a whole day,” Bardwell added.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the IPCC, recently reported with the increase of greenhouse gasses, there is a high correlation between human-induced climate change and heavy precipitation or flooding events.

That means, for every one degree farenheit in temperature rise, the air can hold four percent more water vapor.

It’s something that isn’t lost on Bardwell.

“Sometimes, Mother Nature wins. Agriculute is an important part of our economy in Massachusetts. I’m a big believer that we ought to support our local farms,” Bardwell explained.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, who serves on the Hosue Committe on Agricultural, added, “Flooding, diseases that have impacted plants, they are even challenges in raising cows. It’s becoming much more difficult and complex because of climate change.”

McGovern goes on a yearly tour around western Massachusetts to gauge what is impacting farmers. Lately, there has only been one thing on their minds: the changing climate.

“The scientists have told us, in the most clear way possible, that climate change is real and we need to do something about it. We have one planet, let’s be good stewards of our environment,” McGovern said.

Western Mass News caught up with Matt Mahar, the co-owner of Poplar Hill Farm in West Whately, during a recent visit from McGovern.

“Farming is a challenge everyday. That’s just the way it is. If the weather keeps changing, you learn how to do things in those conditions. Farming, in general, is adapting constantly. You just adapt, you have to. You adapt or die,” Mahar said.

Bardwell added, “Who knows what the next 20 to 30 years will bring us? Who knows what man will develop to help us deal with climate change?”

Both farmers we spoke with mentioned they use regenerative agriculture techniques like using cover crops, rotating their crops on their land, or going with zero-till planting.

These farmers are making changes on a local level and hoping they gather traction internationally.