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Climate Risks in the Northeast

How are climate change and weather variability affecting Northeastern producers?

Farmers, foresters, and other land owners in the Northeast are already feeling the pressures of a changing climate and increasing weather variability. In recent years the Northeast has experienced large increases in the frequency and intensity of heavy rains, more so than any other part of the country. In 2016, while record rains fell in the southern part of this region (WV), many other parts of the Northeast experienced the worst drought in 50 years (NY, MA, CT, RI, NH). Unusually warm winters (2010, 2012, 2016, and 2017) are leading to early breaking of plant dormancy and increased freeze loses. 

In 2017, Northeast Climate Hub university partners led two new studies exploring species and production systems that might be particularly vulnerable to changing conditions. Learn how a changing climate is affecting regional crops and livestock.

How are climate change and weather variability affecting Northeastern producers?

  • The 2016 drought severely limited pasture and crop growth and resulted in USDA disaster declarations in all or parts of MA, RI, CT, NH, VT, ME, NJ, PA, and NY. The drought was particularly damaging to pasture and hay. By mid-August the USDA reported that New England pasture conditions were the worst in the country with NH, RI, and CT each reporting more than three quarters of all pasture in poor or very poor condition.
  • Recent winters have been unusually warm leading to early release from dormancy in perennial plants and damage from late winter or spring cold. In 2016 peach crops in the northern half of the Northeast were affected in this way with almost total losses. Grapes, apples, cherries, and other fruit crops in this region suffered widespread losses following cold conditions after warm winters in 2010 and 2012. For example, in 2012, record high March temperatures were followed by record low temperatures at the end of April leading to huge losses for growers in NY, VT and other states.
  • One of the most pronounced changes in climate in the Northeast during the past several decades has been a 71% increase in the frequency of extreme precipitation events since the mid-1990s—the most of any region of the U.S. These heavy rains are increasing erosion, accelerating fertilizer and manure runoff, and making fields too wet to work. A recent analysis of loss statistics collected by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) shows that excessive rainfall was second only to drought as the leading cause of loss in the region.

    What is USDA doing about it?

    USDA established the USDA Climate Hubs. The USDA Northeast Climate Hub is headed in Durham, NH. This multi-agency effort (Forest Service, Agricultural Research Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Farm Services Agency) is led by David Hollinger, Plant Physiologist with the Forest Service. The Hub delivers science-based knowledge and practical information to farmers and forest landowners that help them adapt to climate change and weather variability by coordinating with local and regional partners in Federal and state agencies, universities, NGO’s, private companies, and Tribes. The USDA Northeast Climate Hub provides: 1.) technical support for land managers to prepare for and respond to drought, heat stress, floods, pests, diseases, and variability in growing seasons, 2.) regional assessments and forecasts for hazard and adaptation planning, and 3.) outreach and education for land managers on ways to adapt to climate-related risks and increase longterm working land sustainability and income.

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