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The forecast: weird weather, failed crops, higher food prices, yikes!

June 24, 2011
By Karen O’Leary - Blue Ridge Press , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

I'd like to send what we have in Vermont to Texas. Rain - lots of it, so much that here in Montpelier, streets, basements and businesses have been awash. In May, I helped a friend and downtown bookseller toss 10,000 muddied volumes - a dead loss. I've also been befuddled by what tomatoes to plant. Last time I checked there wasn't a swamp variety.

Just like you, I've noticed the strange weather we've had across the U.S. this spring. So I decided to investigate and see what summer might offer. Taxpayer-funded scientific websites like NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and ATTRA (the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) are generally great weather resources for people like me - the always planning-ahead farmer and gardener.

Not this year. The NOAA forecast from June to August calls for chaos literally. The predicted rainfall for most of the country is everywhere in the extreme, ranging from too much to too little. Considering what we've already been through, that's bad news for farms, gardens, and cash-strapped families with kids to feed.

Thanks to the weather, for the first time in history, our first crop all over the nation is going, going and in some places gone. The Texas and Oklahoma wheat crops, for example, are at least 50 percent below normal for 2011 while in Kansas, the winter wheat crop is down 27 percent from last year, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Word isn't good for corn, either. Record wet weather in the Midwest kept spring fields too wet to plant from North Dakota to Ohio, cutting USDA corn surplus estimates from 900 million to 695 million bushels.

Add to U.S. crop losses the droughts sweeping Europe, Australia and China, and it becomes clear that we're headed for higher food prices for anything made from grains, including bread and cereals, beef, soft drinks and ethanol.

The lousy weather not only savaged wheat and corn, but other crops too. To get a local perspective, I collected comments left on the Commondreams.org website this spring by worried gardeners.

A man from Vancouver writes: "Where I live we had cold, heavy rain, hail, strong winds and bright, hot sunshine. All in four hours in one day last week. The local planting season is shot to hell, our record mountain snowpack is now melting all at once, flooding lower lying communities."

Another from Ohio says: "After a brief break, we are back to daily heavy rains here in the Ohio River headwaters, so the Mississippi is not finished yet. It is certainly over for any possibility of crops from the huge area encompassing the Mississippi lowlands this year."

Yet another region responds: "In Arizona, the largest forest fire in the recorded history of the Chiricahua mountain range is burning out of control."

Finally, an Indiana gardener shares my concerns: "All my first planting was flooded to death. Second planting had a germination rate of no more than fifty percent but the plants are growing very slowly, while for other plants it is zero percent again. I will need at least a third planting."

What I'm noticing is that our weather is more unpredictable and extreme than ever. This fact, no matter what or who you blame, undeniably jives with climate change models that say global warming brings stronger storms, bigger droughts and shifting regional climate patterns.

So what do we do about it? Adapt and modify.

To adapt, I'm changing the way I garden, digging ditches, putting in raised beds and waiting out the worst rains before planting. No matter what the weather brings, I won't give up. I now see my veggie patch as a form of life insurance - protection against economic hard times and higher food prices.

To modify, I'm stepping up my green ways and urging everyone to do the same. Even if you don't believe in human-caused global warming, it makes economic sense to drive less, reduce waste and be more energy efficient.

As to the realities of climate change, you only need to Google the national weather map to know that it's not a matter of when, it's a matter of now.

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Karen O'Leary is an amateur naturalist and former farmer who currently works for the Vermont Food Bank. A Boston native, she lives in Montpelier, Vt.

 
 

 

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