Climate Smart Farming
In the coming decades, climate change will confront Hudson Valley farmers with unprecedented challenges. Severe storms, droughts, flooding, erosion of soils, and new weeds, diseases, and insect problems will likely add to the already considerable risks inherent in farming as a livelihood.
Climate smart farming means adapting to the changing climate; it requires being prepared and proactive. The long-term security of our food supply may depend on the effectiveness of these strategies. At the Farm Hub we see climate smart farming as key to building a resilient Hudson Valley food system, and we are dedicated to exploring new approaches and sharing what we learn with area farmers in order to build a more resilient Hudson Valley food system.
We are exploring a variety of approaches to climate smart farming, particularly through the use of cover crops as a green manure to build carbon in soils. Building carbon in soil can create a “carbon sink” that actually stores CO2. By some estimates, the amount of CO2 that could be stored in soil represents up to 75 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Cover crops that have been used at the Farm Hub include bromegrass, Timothy grass, alfalfa, peas, clover, sunflowers, sunn hemp, triticale, radish, vetch, buckwheat, and mustard. These crops protect and improve the soil, preventing the loss of carbon to the atmosphere and instead storing it where it belongs.
Cover crops also provide significant benefits to farmers looking to adapt to a changing world. By increasing the soil’s carbon content, the soil acts as a sponge, absorbing water more easily during extreme weather events and then keeping that water available for plants when faced with drought.
No-till cultivation is another important tool for improving soil and mitigating climate change. Through our grain corn and soybean rotation trial, conducted in partnership with Cornell University, we are growing corn and soybeans using a mix of cover crops that restores carbon to the soil. Not only does this reduce our need for fertilizer and pesticides, but it allows us to manage these fields with significantly fewer tractor trips. Beyond the carbon stored in the soil, this approach to growing soybeans can result in a 27% reduction in fuel consumption.
Our small grains project, also conducted in partnership with Cornell University, seeks to recapture seed biodiversity that was lost when grain production moved out of the Hudson Valley. By comparing different varieties and growing methods, we are helping to develop varieties of wheat, barley, rye, and other grains that will allow the Hudson Valley to grow crops appropriate for this region and climate. Varieties are tested in both conventional and organic growing methods and are evaluated by end-users for quality in baking and brewing.
Another approach to climate smart farming involves exploring ways in which farms can benefit natural environments. In 2015 we began working with the Hawthorne Valley Association Farmscape Ecology Program to identify the best techniques for enhancing the interaction between the Farm Hub and its surroundings. Because the Farm Hub land is prone to flooding, we are working with the Farmscape Ecology Program to stabilize the soil by planting riparian buffers along certain parts of the Esopus Creek. This will protect our land in the face of extreme weather events and contribute to water quality in the larger esopus creek watershed.
Another key to building sustainable farms in the future is diversifying production so that if one crop should fail, income generated by other products from the same farm can get the farm through the season. The Farm Hub’s crop rotation includes a wide variety of grains and vegetables. This is a strategy designed to mitigate the risk of any one crop failing and a key component of our ProFarmer training program curriculum.
The Farm Hub is dedicated to bringing research scientists, farmers, and ecologists together to identify best solutions for the benefit of Hudson Valley farmers, their land, and the communities that depend on the food they produce. No one knows for certain what climate change will mean to the Hudson Valley, but by collaborating and exploring new ideas and approaches to agriculture, we can take steps to ensure that the Hudson Valley food system remains vibrant for generations to come.