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Farmers already battling changing climate, Congress could fund more research to help

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Posted at 2:55 PM, Aug 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-27 14:55:01-04

SHELTON, CT — Droughts and wildfires in the West, floods in the East, a shortage of water in some parts of the country, extreme weather is creating obstacles for many Americans and that is especially true of farmers coast to coast.

"In your 74 years, how has the climate changed?" Scripps National Political Editor Joe St. George recently asked Terry Johns, a fifth-generation farmer, on his property.

"It's more erratic," Jones said.

Terry says it isn't that it's hot all the time. It's just when it's warm, it stays warmer longer. When it rains, it keeps raining.

Extreme cold is as devastating to the Jones Family Farm as a drought.

He lost 500 Christmas trees last year because of unseasonably cold temperatures.

"If it had dropped a couple degrees more instead of having 500 trees, we might have had 5,000 that got damaged,” Jones said.

Jones emphasized people often forget when the weather gets rough, it's more than just buildings that get damaged, crops do too. And that has the potential to impact the price of food.

For instance, bread prices are expected to go up soon because many wheat fields out west have been lost because of a drought.

"At the consumer level, we have to get used to higher prices," Jones said.

CHANGES HIS WAYS

In an effort to prevent the impacts of the next big storm, Jones is focusing heavily on soil health.

He tries to protect the nutrients in his fields by rotating which ones are planted each year. Each newly planted tree gets special compost to help trap in moisture.

How he is farming is very different from his ancestors, but he believes the federal government needs to spend more money on understanding how a changing environment is impacting America's farms.

"We have to focus on what matters,” Jones said, speaking of the climate.

Farmers down the road from Jones in Connecticut are saying similar things.

“Every year, we always say we haven't seen this before,” said William Dellacamera of Cecarellis Harrison Hill Farm.

Dellacamera has over 24,000 tomato plants in his fields, but he could have planted more. Instead, he left some rows out.

“I left out every other row and I planted a cover crop,” Dellacamera said proudly.

He did this so the soil wouldn't shift so radically during rainstorms.

He also did it to prevent various diseases. The evolving climate is impacting what insects and pests visit the farm too. Creating more space between plants makes it harder for insects to kill his crops.

“If this row was here maybe these tomatoes would have disease already,” Dellacamera added.

CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE

In Washington, spending more money on agriculture climate research and how farms are impacted by a changing climate is part of the massive, multi-trillion-dollar spending proposal before Congress.

Debate on this will intensify in September. In total, Congress could spend $300 billion on various climate change initiatives if what is proposed becomes law.

Both Jones and Dellacamera believe D.C. has a role in the future of farming. While they are adjusting, they say many are not.

“If you were to go ask them right now, why you doing it like that, they are going to say, 'That’s the way my father did it,'" Dellacamera said. "It shouldn’t be politically charged but it is."