How to build a weather-resilient farm

Climate change is happening. It’s happening here. It’s happening now.

That’s the message that Aaron Wilson, climate specialist with CFAES’ OSU Extension outreach arm, is sharing with Ohio farmers. He talks to them about how they can make their farms more resilient to weather extremes—to the warmer-than-average temperatures, unusually heavy rains, flooding, and more that Ohio is seeing from climate change.

“It’s not a future issue,” he says. “The time to prepare is right now.”

The need to adapt

Improving weather resilience requires adaptation, Wilson says—determining your farm’s impacts from weather extremes, then deciding what to do about them. He suggests a process from the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science’s (NIACS) Adaptation Handbook:

  • Define your management objectives
  • Assess your weather impacts and vulnerabilities
  • Evaluate your management objectives given your vulnerabilities
  • Identify your adaptation tactics
  • Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of your actions
  • Then, based on your evaluation, return to step 1 and repeat

“Adaptation is site-specific. There’s no single answer for everyone,” Wilson says. Farms will all experience weather impacts differently, depending on factors such as location, crops, and topography. So, you should base your adaptation changes on what you’re seeing at the farm level.

“It’s a real personal thing,” Wilson says.

Adaptation can involve practices such as drainage, irrigation, or switching to a more disease-resistant crop variety. It’s affected by finances—Can you afford to change the practice? Can you afford not to?—and by factors such as crop insurance.

Soil health is key

But a key to much of it is soil health, Wilson says. Practices such as no-till and cover crops, implemented to boost soil health, also improve weather resilience. They make crop plants hardier, reduce erosion, and slow down runoff, for instance.

At the same time, soil health practices also improve water quality and sequester carbon, the latter helping fight climate change.

“All these things are good for crops, which can ultimately be good for profit as well, so finding those environmentally sustainable practices that are also economically profitable is a key area of building a weather-resilient farm,” Wilson says.

“We’re trying to maintain profitability for farmers in light of, or in spite of, these increasing challenges they have throughout the year.”

To learn more, contact Wilson at wilson.1010@osu.edu or 614-292-7930. Use the free NIAC Adaptation Handbook. And check out the Midwest Climate Hub and its adaptation tools webpage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.