TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Sustainable Tompkins hosted a documentary screening and panel discussion last week, focusing on how farmers in the immediate area are adapting to climate change.

The mini-documentary, Our Farmers in Flux: Adapting to Climate Change, discusses challenges that farmers face concerning particularly wet growing seasons as well as the importance of cover crops and rotation for the health of the soil.

Over the past few years, crops statewide have been reduced, and the heavy rainfall of the previous summers has resulted in earth saturation that doesn’t lend itself to good growing seasons.

Thor Oechsner of Oechsner Farms in Newfield, New York, is one of the farmers featured in the doc. Oechsner grows corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, clover and buckwheat, and Thor said that he has noticed the weather becoming more extreme. Last year, he said, the farm lost most of its soybean crops because of the water saturation.

To help increase soil health threatened by particularly wet conditions, Thor said, the farm does minimum tillage and works organic matter back into the soil, including straw, which costs about $50,000 annually but increases the quality of the soil.

Anne Derousie and Karel Titus of Adventureland Farm utilize grass pastures for their cattle, which they say allows for more flexibility with weather challenges. Viewing it as a “grass farm,” they can adjust where the animals graze based on weather and growth conditions.

Lakeview Organic Grain’s Klass Martens said that the largest concern for farmers is the unpredictability of the climate. Lakeview has tried to mitigate risk by expanding the range of crops it grows and being more innovative and flexible when it comes to how the soil is covered. “Climate change is both a threat and an opportunity,” Martens said.

Following the screening, Community Food System Plan Coordinator Katie Hallas gave a presentation about the importance of creating a better food system in Tompkins County. According to her presentation, food systems account for ⅓ of greenhouse gas emissions, and the average household in Tompkins County spends $8,556 annually on food. Within the county, 11.9% of adults and 13.6% of children face food insecurity.

Hallas also talked about the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in New York State and its goal of reducing 40% of emissions by 2030 and 85% by 2050.

Another panelist, Graham Savio, agriculture and horticulture issue leader with Cornell Cooperative Extension, discussed projections and implications for the Southern Tier’s food production.

He said that increased precipitation is being observed and that adverse consequences of this include direct flood damage to crops, a loss of nutrients and sediment in runoff during flood events, and delays in field access that increase farm costs.

Additionally, “higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels can potentially increase growth and yield of many crops under optimal conditions,” Savio said. “Research has shown that many aggressive weed species benefit more than cash crops and that weeds also become more resistant to herbicides at carbon dioxide concentrations.”

The recommendations from Savio’s presentation suggest things like shifting planting for annual crops, exploring new varieties of crops with better drought and heat tolerances, double-cropping openings, increased monitoring surrounding pests and disease and exploring renewable energy markets.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...