Researchers at Cornell University say climate change has added more stress to being a farmer in New York and exacerbating the issues of high costs and labor shortages.
The report, which details the effects of climate change in many industries across the state’s economy, also found climate change may have a significant adverse impact on one of the state’s staples: maple syrup.
“We’re seeing the fact that climate change is a threat multiplier, and then we focused on what farmers know about this and what they’re doing about it, and what they should be doing,” said Allison Chatrchyan, an author on the report.
Abnormal weather patterns have caused various issues for New York’s agriculture industry, such as crop losses and damages and increased weeds, diseases and pests.
“There’s much greater variability in the extremes when it comes to things like precipitation, short term-drought, heat stress, so we’re basically seeing an increase in the annual average temperature across the state,” said Deborah Aller, another author of the report.
Heat stress can be detrimental to the dairy industry as cows produce less milk under those circumstances, Aller said.
“Warmer winter led to early budbreak in our perennial fruit crops followed by a late spring frost event effectively damaging already blossoming fruit and some farmers losing their entire harvest,” she said of 2023.
Maple production is a sector of New York’s agricultural industry that has seen a significant impact of climate change due to its vulnerability to temperature. New York state is the second-largest maple producer in the country behind Vermont, producing 845,000 gallons in 2022, according to USDA data.
“Maple production is projected to decline greatly in the coming years, the tapping season is becoming shorter and our ability to produce maple is decreasing as the winters get warmer,” Aller said.
According to the report, the warmer temperatures also lower the sugar content in the sap, which then requires more boiling time and more total sap to produce the same amount of maple syrup. Maple producers say they have seen their sugar content drop on average between 2% and 1.5%.
The impacts of climate change are what Aller and Chatrchyan refer to as “threat multipliers” for New York farmers.
“It’s leading to greater production costs, having to invest in practices that they didn’t anticipate leading to greater labor costs leading to mental health issues, so there’s this ripple effect that’s occurring from the core climate impacts that farmers are dealing with,” Aller said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last week that net farm income is projected to decrease by 27% due to high input costs and low commodity prices, which aligns with what the Cornell report found as stressors for farmers.
“It’s all a further threat multiplier and exacerbates the stresses they are already facing,” Chatrchyan said.
Education and implementation of practices that mitigate the impacts of climate change is key to going forward, Aller said.
“There’s no one size fits all approach to it. It’s going to look different on every farm, and we need to be working directly with farmers to help them in making those changes,” Aller said.