As climate change impacts the future of farming, experts seek ways to adapt
Climate Change Impacts Farming | Erica Van Buren |
As climate change continues to negatively impact agriculture in Georgia, advancements in technology are being used to aid producers in creating more sustainable crops.
Climate change forcing adjustments
Lashawndra Robinson, founder of Black Farm Street in Augusta, had to make some expensive yet necessary adjustments in order to combat the effects of climate change.
“One of the biggest things I’ve had to face here in Georgia compared to South Carolina is the difference in the soil,” said Robinison. “We started out with drip irrigation. During the summer months the soil got so hot we had to do overhead watering because the ground wasn’t staying moist. In addition to overhead watering last year I put in drip tape under the ground.”
Robinson added new piping which meant the city had to come out and install a new meter in order for her garden to have direct high pressure water.
Black Farm Street is a nonprofit with two gardens on 1.5 acres located at 1650 Olive Rd., Augusta, and a 14-acre garden in Aiken, South Carolina.
‘There’s more than one way to farm’
Robinson maintains produce in both gardens including peas, corn, squash, watermelons, cantaloupe, collard greens and tomatoes, being the most popular out of the bunch.
“The community that I’m in is considered a food desert,” said Robinson. “Last year we were able to feed 720 homes over the summer. This year we probably fed 15 homes. Corn thrives off of water. It got so hot and I couldn’t keep the soil moist enough. It was just too hot.”
The short answer is God, said Robinson as to what inspired her to get into agriculture and why she remains committed to doing the work.
“I don’t have a background in agriculture at all,” said Robinson. “I went to culinary school. I also went to school for business management. But I was called to agriculture. I learned hands on from different farmers. I would go to different farms and they would teach me their way of farming. Farming is so versatile. There’s more than one way to farm.”
Learning to adapt
Kate Cassity-Duffey, assistant professor in the horticulture department at University of Georgia, said climate change has had a negative impact on the agriculture industry.
“I’ve been working in agriculture for 15 years,” said Duffey. “We’re seeing more drastic storm events; lots of rain and then it’s very dry. I talk with my students about how we are going to adapt to make sure we have food security with this kind of unpredictable climate. I’m hopeful that as we all shift towards more precision agriculture, organic farming we can minimize inputs.”
Duffey is currently working on a three-year research study through the Durham Horticulture Farm, dedicated to helping farmers transition from conventional to organic farming.
“Conventional farmers typically use fertilizers and pesticides that come from a synthetic origin,” said Duffey. “Certified organic farmers aren’t allowed to use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Everything has to come from, for lack of a better word, an organic origin. The pesticides used in organic farming are derived from plants, not created in a laboratory.”
Duffey said looking at ways to build resilience on a farm are key to combating the negative impacts of climate change.
“Building soil organic matter and having a diversity of microorganisms in the soil can help with stressors like drought,” said Duffey. “Soil organic matter helps your soil hold on to water better. Conventional and organic farmers are thinking about this. Adding a diversity of plants on your farm that are more drought tolerant is important.”
Hydroponic farms doing more with less
Chief Executive Officer for Gotham Greens, Viraj Puri, said hydroponic greenhouses are another way of combating climate change.
“There’s been more climate uncertainty, more erratic weather patterns — which is interrupting the supply of many agricultural commodities and vegetables,” said Puri. “We believe these hydroponic greenhouses are part of the solution. It’s not the only way to grow. But it’s part of the solution to grow in the future.”
Gotham Greens is an indoor farming company that provides fresh produce, herbs, salad dressings, dips and cooking sauces to retail, restaurant and foodservice providers.
The newly-opened 210,000 square foot hydroponic greenhouse, one of 13 nationwide, is located in Monroe, Georgia between Atlanta and Athens.
“We operate one of the largest networks of high-tech hydroponic greenhouses across North America,” said Puri. “This network of hydroponic greenhouses allows us to grow and deliver high quality, leafy greens grown sustainably year round regardless of the season.”
What is a hydroponic greenhouse?
“Hydroponic farming is a type of farming that doesn’t use soil,” said Puri. “We can grow in an enclosed building, allowing us to regulate all climate conditions including temperature, humidity and airflow. This allows us to grow all year round regardless of the weather outside. Using hydroponics we can use water very efficiently.”
Benefits of a hydronic greenhouse
“We recycle all of the irrigation water for reuse allowing us to grow vegetables using up to 90% less water than conventional farming,” said Puri. “It also allows us to use up to 97% less land than conventional farmers. In other words, what we can grow in 1 acre in a hydroponic greenhouse would require over 30 acres in the field. It’s a very efficient form of farming that uses fewer natural resources.”
Long-term benefits of greenhouses
“We estimate with our current footprint of greenhouses we will save more than 300 million gallons of water annually compared to regular conventional farming,” said Puri.
Puri says the hydroponic greenhouse layout isn’t one size fits all.
“It works well for certain crops in certain parts of the world,” he said. “We think it’s well suited to the Southeast region of the United States. But it’s not a technology for everywhere.”