At first glance, warmer winters may seem like a gift for farmers, especially in Northern areas where temperatures have been known to reach a searing -30 degrees. Warmer weather due to climate change has already lowered the number of frozen days for farms in Montana. Some people say milder winters will result in a longer growing season and create economic advantages for farmers.
The truth is, however, that farmers rely on long frosts to control the pest population. While the sawfly used to appear after harvest, it now appears earlier in the year and feasts on tender crops. Forests are also suffering from an increase in the pine bark beetle. Dead trees have led to an increase in wildfires.
In Canada, farmers are reporting wetter springs, making planting difficult, and higher occurrences of wind storms, which damage crops. A rise in sea level could also increase the salt in the soil, which would disrupt growing. While some farms are currently adapting by diversifying their offering, it may not be enough to overcome the rapid increase of both drought and flooding that have come in recent years, along with cases of extreme weather. Farmers are no longer sure if it is safe to plant in the months that are traditional for seed sowing.
Senator Jon Tester of Montana is hoping to convince the Senate of the danger climate change poses to the economy and natural resources. The senator has introduced two bills to combat climate change. One bill will make it easier to develop renewable energy projects on public land, and the other will set better logging and recreation zones in national forests to reduce the risk of wildfires. While Congress debates the cost, merits and realities of climate change, farmers will continue to produce food with increased risk and hope for better solutions.