The agriculture sector is already feeling the effects of New York’s changing climate. Comstock said warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns present both economic challenges and opportunities for agriculture. For example, he said farmers are already experiencing increased insect, disease and weed pressure, but have also had success planting new longer-season varieties of corn. Since the 1960s, the growing season has lengthened by nearly a week, as evidenced by observations of earlier spring bloom dates for lilacs, apples and grapes at agricultural research stations across the state.
Comstock said the warmer temperatures and a longer growing season (by as much as a month by the end of the century) is not all bad because it could create opportunities for farmers to produce warmer-temperature crops (e.g., peaches or watermelon). However, he said the dairy industry and many of the state’s current high-value crops (e.g., apples, cabbage and potatoes) will be vulnerable to heat-induced crop damage and losses.
As each species responds uniquely to climate change, it is unknown how it will affect the synchrony between organisms such as plants and pollinators, according to Comstock.
“You often hear that the climate has always been changing, and that is true,” Comstock said.
He said there have been extreme weather changes such as going from an ice age to a warm spell, but something like that generally taking 1,000 years or more to make that transition.
“We are causing a transition just as large in a century,” Comstock said.
He told growers that the changes will bring opportunities for experimentation along with several challenges.