Farm fields and forests are the heart of Vermont’s landscape and economy. Rising temperatures, more intense storms, and changes in the onset and progression of the seasons may pose serious threats to forest health and agriculture.
ANR and many other organizations are working together to understand these impacts and to develop strategies so we are prepared for what is to come.
Warming Trends May Harm Forest Health
Rising temperatures cause more rapid drying of forest soils. Climate scientists point to the likelihood of more episodic droughts in Vermont as a result of these warming trends.
Drought stress makes trees more susceptible to insect damage or disease. In particular, non-native insects such as the Hemlock and Balsam Woolly-Adelgids, Emerald Ash Borer, and Asian Long-Horned Beetle can take advantage of reduced forest vigor. These pests have the potential to kill or damage significant numbers of trees, compromising forest health across Vermont.
Rising temperatures will affect different farms in different ways, depending upon the crops they grow.
A longer growing season can produce higher corn yield, better second-cut hay yield, and less winter-killed alfalfa. A change in hardiness zones is already allowing farmers and gardeners to grow new plants that would not thrive here a decade ago.
Grain crops such as wheat and oats will yield less when summer temperatures rise. Warm-weather crops like tomatoes and snap peas may be less productive when temperatures get too high.
The $2.2 billion dairy industry in Vermont may face critical setbacks as average summer temperatures climb. Heat stress for cows can occur at temperatures as low as 75°F on especially humid days, lowering milk productivity.
Many crop species, such as apples, blueberries, and even the balsam firs that make up the majority of Vermont's Christmas tree farms require cool temperatures. Warming winters may not consistently meet the requirements of crops like these and, over time, climate change will prompt certain species to shift north.
While winter may be the season of rest for most working lands, that is not the case for the harvested forests.
"We rely on good, cold, firm soil conditions in the winter for good logging,” Michael Snyder, Commissioner of the Department of Forests Parks and Recreation, told a reporter during the record breaking warm winter of 2016. "Shortened winters, weather like this, is really detrimental to the working lands of Vermont."
Forest and Crop Damage from Storms
As climate change brings heavy rains and more intense storms, Vermont's farms and forests may be damaged. More frequent floods can pose significant problems for farmers in river valleys who often need every acre to make farming sustainable.
Winter freeze and thaw cycles set up conditions for more frequent ice storms, causing serious damage to trees and crops.
A Decline in Sugaring
Maple syrup production in Vermont is a cultural tradition and a $250 million a year industry. Compared to 50 years ago, sugaring seasons are about three days shorter overall, beginning a week earlier and ending 10 days earlier. Sugarmakers have had to plan for the irregular length of the season and they are adapting tapping practices to counter some of the negative effects of these warming trends.
Like most of our native trees, sugar maples respond to shortened winters by flushing leaves earlier in spring. Some years this can mean leaves get nipped by late spring frosts. ANR monitors the timing of sugar maple budbreak (when buds start to open) and leaf emergence. Long term trends indicate both are occurring earlier.
Sugar maple leaf out is monitored in Underhill, Vermont by the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.
Vermont Agricultural Resilience in a Changing Climate: The University of Vermont
The Proctor Maple Research Center: The University of Vermont Extension