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PMA Virtual Town Hall

Farming in a changing climate: Diversification and flexibility are key

This week’s PMA virtual town hall looked at the impact of the changing climate. The consequences of climate change have brought challenges to many different aspects of the produce industry, from temperature and precipitation changes, to land availability and pests. This week’s panel discussed the challenges and what steps farmers and growers can take to best set themselves up for success in this changing world.

Higher pace of changes
While changes in climate are not new and are something that farmers have been facing for centuries, the pace of the changes that we are seeing now is much higher that what it has been in the past. The changes that are being observed now are of a wide range: temperatures are increasing all over the country, with the rates of change depending on the region; there’s changes in precipitation with some regions getting more and others getting less precipitation than they are used to – and then there’s regions that are getting the same levels of precipitation but the seasonality of it has changed. There has also been an increase in extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and hurricanes. All of these changes have an impact not just on the actual crops but also on the important infrastructures and transportation systems that are required of a smooth-running supply chain.

Preparation through diversification
While there are a lot of changes that are rapidly occurring out of our control, the panelists also discussed the different steps growers can take to best prepare themselves for these changes. One of the most mentioned solutions was that of diversification as a form of risk management. For example, changing the crops that are being grown to reflect the changes in the climate. Having more diversity in the planted crops, as well as adjusting the varieties that are being worked with.

Another important aspect of this equation is that of soil health. By properly managing soil health, growers can reduce the need for fertilizer which would bring both environmental as well as economic benefits. One of the panelists shares that there’s been a lot of promise in the research of storing carbon in agricultural lands and soils, though a lot of this science isn’t well known yet.

Part of the panel was made up of vertical and hydroponic growers of leafy greens. These innovative ways of growing produce often use more sustainable processes – the high-tech structures that are designed to make the growing process as efficient as possible also take into account the different ways that energy and water can be conserved. Currently, leafy greens are the most common product to be grown vertically and hydroponically, but there is a lot of room for expansion in this field.

There is no one single solution for the challenges ahead, but through an open discussion and a commitment to sustainability, there will continue to be innovation in the agriculture industry. Consumers will also continue to drive change, as they become more invested in purchasing products that have been sustainably produced.

Next week’s virtual town hall will focus on women in leadership in the produce industry.