For those of us in agriculture and forestry sectors, planning is a long-term proposition. While many focus on planning horizons measured in weeks or fiscal quarters, we’re planning for a whole season. And for foresters, it’s even longer as they have to plan for a harvest 30 years down the road.
When it comes to weather, we look months – and even years – down the road trying to determine the proper management strategies that will keep our farms and forests viable. And like it or not, what we’re looking at now are long-term shifts in temperature, precipitation, storms and seasons. We’re already having to begin adapting to changes many have not yet begun to notice.
In preparation for these shifts, North Carolina’s farmers and foresters have begun changing how we do business to accommodate earlier springs, which deprive some crops of much-needed and required “chilling periods” and can cause crops to bloom before the last frost – potentially costing us dearly. We are also concerned with damage caused by forest pests such as Pine Tip Moth that are unpredictable in where and how long they will attack our young seedlings. And we’ve started trying to find ways to cope with increasingly intense storms and downpours, which can wash away fertilizers and soil as well as damage young seedlings.
That’s why we elected to help lead the North Carolina Agriculture and Forestry Adaptation Work Group – NC ADAPT – a program that’s bringing together farmers, ranchers, foresters, agribusiness, conservationists, academics and government officials to share our experiences and develop solutions to increasingly erratic and unpredictable weather. Because what has served us well as best-management practices and other risk-management tools are quickly becoming irrelevant given the changing climatic conditions we are experiencing. This week in Raleigh, we’re convening a variety of folks who grow crops, raise animals and manage forests to explore steps that must be taken to keep North Carolina’s farms and forests vibrant and resilient.
Our goal is to keep farming and forestry as valuable pillars of North Carolina’s economy. These two industries provide 17 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, and employ 16 percent of North Carolina’s workers. We can’t just up and move our operations to another state or take up a new profession without major losses to North Carolina’s thriving economy. Instead, we have to fight and adapt to this new weather together.
For example, we’ve begun moving seedlings into cold storage to mimic winter weather that used to last until March but now departs sooner – if it arrives at all. Others are pursuing genetic advancements, taking what nature has to offer and applying the same breeding techniques that humans have used for thousands of years to develop crops to suit our (new) climatic conditions. Hopefully, what they develop can be shared with (or bought by) others in similar situations.
What we’re dealing with is a lack of predictability. In an industry that plans decades down the line, a reliable climate is a requirement. But with new conditions come new approaches, so we have to roll with the punches and identify tools and techniques to ensure agriculture and forestry will remain resilient and economically viable.
With widespread agreement among scientists that changes are coming, we need to establish priorities that promote successful production of food and fiber not just for today, but for future generations to come.
R.C. Hunt is a former president of the N.C. Pork Council. Chip Miller is former president of the NC Forestry Association.