Climate change could have dire impacts on Michigan farmers. As a result, local producers are taking matters into their own hands to cope with extreme temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns in the state.
Earlier in October, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, released a report entitled “The Climate Crisis and Michigan” to address environmental issues surrounding the state and the implications of climate change on local communities.
Sections of the report discuss various ways climate change has affected Michigan’s physical and economic landscape, including damages to agriculture, winter recreation and both public and private infrastructure.
Agriculture is the second largest industry in Michigan, representing about a quarter of all jobs. These jobs require a stable and reliable climate in order to succeed. The report highlighted a phenomenon called “false spring,” marked by unseasonal warmth and sudden shifts back to cold temperatures. According to the report, the phenomenon puts stress on crops and causes them to underperform. In 2012, Michigan farmers lost 90 percent of the tart cherry crop due to false spring, according to the report.
Climate change is also impacting local life. Stephanie Willette, manager of the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, noted the dangers of climate instability in recent years, as well as its impact on crop yield in Ann Arbor.
“This year, we had that cold snap that was a lot later than normal, and so we didn’t have hardly any peaches at all that were good this year,” Willette said. “That’s kind of rare and really happens when you get (temperatures) that aren’t normal, and we had a late frost this spring.”
At the end of every year, the market releases an annual report in which Ann Arbor residents can voice feedback on the market and its vendors. In 2018, various complaints pertained to creating an indoor version of the year-round market for winter months.
Willette explained extreme weather patterns caused by climate change, like severe wind and rain, pose a serious threat to the physical market, as well as to the items vendors can sell during the year.
“I think there is a concern that storms, rain, snow are going to become more severe, and that is one of the things pushing the issue, and we’re taking a look at trying to winterize the space,” Willette said. “We are working with (the city) in order to try and install solar, so we’re thinking in terms of how our facility can be more sustainable. How can we have energy solutions that are not contributing to climate change that are reliable long-term?”
Anxieties surrounding lack of a plentiful harvest can also put stress on the farmers, who risk job instability. According to the report, an increase in Michigan’s poor air quality has exacerbated the annual allergy season. Warmer conditions caused by climate change have allowed disease-carrying pests like mosquitoes and ticks to thrive in the state, both of which pose statewide public health concerns.
Eric Kampe, a vendor at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market and the owner of Ann Arbor Seed Company, explained climate change can harm a farmer’s financial and emotional well-being.
“Folks that farm really love and care (about) what they’re doing, and if the wind is blowing hard and you’re thinking, ‘Man, is this going to ruin one of my buildings, or break one of my hoop houses, or is this stressing out my crops?’” Kampe said. “You can put on your accountant hat, (but) that’s not who we are as living creatures. It’s stressful, it’s hard, you don’t sleep well at night … It definitely can hurt the bottom line and hurt your ability to make a living.”
Stabenow’s report concludes with solutions to the problems of climate change in Michigan, such as investing in renewable energy and employing smarter agricultural practices.
The report noted Michigan is the leading state for clean energy jobs in the Midwest, and ranks fifth nationally.
LSA sophomore Elliott Smith, a member of the Ann Arbor chapter for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, emphasized the benefits of legislative solutions like the implementation of a carbon tax to help reduce the effects of climate change.
“I believe strongly that the best first step we can do is enact a carbon tax,” Smith said. “That’s going to be the easiest way to get a full, economy-wide movement toward cleaner practices, cleaner technologies (and) incentivize businesses and individuals to reduce our carbon emissions quickly. It’s also what economists agree is the best way to bring about the fast and economically practical change we need.”
Kampe said the report is important, but explained she is looking to the state to establish more concrete legislation regarding climate change’s effect on agriculture.
“It really is an opportunity, but it will take policy change, because it’s unrealistic to expect farmers that are already struggling to just avoid bankruptcy to change and add these beneficial practices,” Kampe said. “We need leadership in government that will encourage these practices, and reward these practices, and I think our community of farmers will be excited to be stewards of the land and build soil.”
Kinesiology senior Lydia Hsu is the student manager of the Campus Farm, which works to grow and outsource produce to students, in addition to selling its products to Michigan Dining and the Maize & Blue Cupboard. Although various demonstrations on campus have demanded action to address climate change, there has been little progress when it comes to implementing legislation, Hsu said.
“I looked at the report, and it doesn’t look like there’s a concrete plan going forward,” Hsu said. “They go into all the different sectors of what climate change is affecting, but it doesn’t really set out a detailed plan of how we’re going to address these issues. There have been so many strikes and protests, and nobody’s doing anything about it.”