QUEENSTOWN — At the request of state legislators, researchers from the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology are teaming with the Maryland departments of agriculture (MDA) and environment (MDE) to gauge the impact of climate change on statewide farming and help develop a blueprint for future regulations that may mitigate those effects.
Currently, the three organizations are compiling survey responses from farmers and agricultural stakeholders across the state, the first step in their effort to guide a new climate vulnerability assessment. This data gathering process – which will also include virtual workshops with farmers – is due to legislators Dec. 1, where next steps will then be evaluated by state lawmakers.
Though a timeline after December has yet to be determined, Ernie Shea, a board member at the Hughes Center and one of the co-chairs for the vulnerability project, hopes that the assessment will be completed in 2022, in time for the state’s 2023 legislative session.
“There’s lots of dimensions to climate change in agriculture,” Shea said. “And we just want to make sure that, given what science is telling us to expect, we’re prepared and we really have a strong, scientific foundation of knowledge about the vulnerabilities we’re facing.”
“There are a number of things that have to come together, but what’s most important is that we get moving.”
The last time Maryland conducted this kind of assessment was in 2010, over a decade ago. Established in a 2007 executive order by Governor Martin O’Malley, the report examined potential climate-induced consequences on human health, forestry resources, fresh water supply, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as the agricultural industry.
Whereas the last assessment provided a “general” overview of the state, the upcoming report will have a specific focus on agriculture, according to the Hughes Center, which is affiliated with the University of Maryland and based out of the Wye Research and Education Center in Queenstown.
“The fact that Maryland is focusing on this is a huge step,” a representative from the Hughes Center told the Bay Times. “These impacts are coming. The changes are happening now.”
The Chesapeake Bay is one of the most vulnerable regions in America to the effects of climate change, according to the Conservation Fund. Over the last 100 years, water levels in the Chesapeake rose approximately one foot – nearly twice the global average, thanks partly to land subsidence, or sinking, caused by global sea-level rising – and are predicted to rise between 1.3 and 5.2 feet by the end of the 21st century.
While the agricultural effects of these changes are part of what’s now being updated, the potential impacts on infrastructure and local populations have already been investigated. Using 2010 census data, a 2012 study from the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission suggested between 59,000 and 176,000 residents living near the shores of the southern Chesapeake Bay could be either regularly flooded or permanently inundated by 2100.
According to the budget committee narrative assigning the Hughes Center with the MDA and MDE, climate-induced impacts on farmers may include increases in pests, disease, and weed pressure, disruptions in planting and harvesting dates, and decreases in the quantity and quality of food produced, among others.
The initiation of Maryland’s three-pronged collaboration coincides with international efforts by political leaders to address climate change. A report presented to the United Nations Aug. 9 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific grouping assembled by the U.N., acknowledged that while the Earth will experience unavoidable damage, catastrophe can be avoided if human behavior adapts.
Across the United States, the agricultural forecast is grim. Should the Earth experience a 2 C increase in global warming – the temperature change the Paris Agreement hopes to thwart – droughts are expected in the Western and Central regions of the country, according to the IPCC report. Given that states like California and Washington are largely responsible for American produce, an added burden may be placed on Eastern production.
“We lost our competitive advantage,” Shea said of Maryland, referring to the country’s fresh market. “So now, there could be an opportunity to bring some of that back and diversify some of our landscapes. But those crops, whatever they are, are going to be stressed here as well.”
Global leaders will be given the opportunity to address the IPCC’s conclusions in November, when the 26th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference – known this year as COP26 – will be held in Glasgow, Scotland.
Its 2015 event, COP21, saw the establishment of the Paris Agreement, in which every country agreed to do their part in limiting global warming. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2017, citing concerns that the agreement would harm the economy, a decision President Joe Biden quickly reversed in January.
The Hughes Center requests that any agricultural producer or stakeholder interested in taking the survey visit go.umd.edu/ClimateSurvey for more information.
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