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State Helping Farmers Take "Long Term View" On Climate Change

John Lee



Farmers live a gambler’s life. And with climate change, the odds for farmers are changing. The state is trying to help farmers plan for what the changing climate holds for Maryland’s largest commercial industry. 


But while some farmers are looking to go on the offensive against climate change, others are just trying to make it to tomorrow.




On any given Sunday at the Baltimore Farmers Market under the Jones Falls Expressway, all kinds of fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy are for sale.


South Mountain Creamery in Middletown, Maryland, is one of about 50 farms doing business at the market. When asked about climate change, creamery owner Randy Sowers sees competition from  agribusinesses as a bigger threat to the small farmer because they are controlling prices. 


“So as they get bigger, they just push the little guy around,” Sowers said.


A few days earlier and about 15 miles north at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, Meg Jones was manning her table at the Wednesday farmers market there. Jones and her husband run Jones Organic Dairy and Produce Farm in Harford County.


When it comes to climate change, Jones said they think about it from season to season.


“If it’s a drought year then you change what you’re doing or you just hope for rain,” Jones said. “Sometimes there’s not much you can do.”


Jones and other farmers said they are seeing the effects of climate change like hotter summers, more torrential rainfalls, and plants budding earlier. But Rob Deford, the president of Boordy Vineyards in Baltimore County, said farmers are kept busy with the day to day of running their business, selling their product and keeping up with regulations. 


“We are people who face the daily challenges and often can’t come up for air long enough to think ahead 50 or 100 years like we need to,” Deford said.


For years, the state’s been working with farmers to improve water quality, part of the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup. Hans Schmidt, Assistant Secretary for Resource Conservation for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said some of those same practices can help farmers deal with the extremes in weather they are seeing. 


For instance, the state helps farmers pay for the cost of planting cover crops, like grains and radishes. During the fall and winter they can help prevent erosion. That is the water quality part. 


But those crops also help break up the soil so water from heavy rains can seep deeper into the ground. 


Also, Schmidt said those crops help in the big picture fight against climate change because they are pulling carbon out of the air.


“Maryland is a pretty small state compared to everything else and it’s important that we’re doing our part,” Schmidt said.


Taking carbon from the air through photosynthesis and putting it in the ground is a big deal for Tom Croghan, co-owner of the Vineyards at Dodon in Anne Arundel County. Croghan plants 11 different cover crops. He also doesn’t till the soil. If you do that, it releases that carbon back into the air. Croghan said the trapped carbon helps to make the soil healthier.


“They’re stable,” Croghan said. “They’ll stay in the ground for thousands of years. And so that’s going to help draw down the carbon dioxide that’s in the atmosphere.”


Two years ago, the legislature passed the Maryland Healthy Soils Program to teach farmers how to sequester carbon, but without approving additional money for that effort. The state agriculture department this fall is preparing a strategic plan that Schmidt said will include climate change.


For Croghan, it’s personal. His family has been farming for 294 years.


“I’d like to see the family still be on the farm in 294 years.” Croghan said. “And you have to have a long term view to make it work.”


There will be a public hearing on the agriculture department’s strategic plan October 1 at 7 p.m. at the state fairgrounds. 








John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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