By Laura Lengnick, founder of Cultivating Resilience, LLC
This story is excerpted from Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate (New Society Publishers, 2015). Resilient Agriculture explores climate risk, resilience, and the future of food through the adaptation stories of 25 award-winning sustainable farmers and ranchers growing fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and livestock across America.
For more than forty years, Nash Huber has produced organic vegetables and fruits, food and feed grains, pork and poultry, and a variety of vegetable and cover crop seeds on 450 acres of prime farmland on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Much of Nash’s land is leased, and most of it is protected by conservation easements. With the help of a permanent crew of twenty-five, and an additional fifteen during peak growing season, Nash manages diverse dynamic rotations that build soil quality, provide nutrients, conserve water, and reduce pest pressures to keep the farm productive and profitable. The farm receives an annual average of seventeen inches of rain, and its production is irrigated entirely with surface waters replenished each year by snowmelt from the mountains to the south.
Nash Huber first started noticing changes in the weather in the early 1990s. The growing season seemed to lengthen as winters grew warmer, spring temperatures and precipitation grew more variable, and fall grain and seed harvests were increasingly disturbed by more frequent fall moisture. “It seems like our springs have gotten longer, cooler, and wetter,” says Nash. “We always used to get nice warm weather in late April and May. We haven’t gotten anything like that in years. Quite often, spring will start sometime between the middle of January and the middle of March, and it’s really variable. It can have too much swing and that really puts the squeeze on us.”
More variable summer weather coupled with increased moisture in the fall have impacted the farm’s most valuable products — grains and seeds. September weather used to be predictable, Nash explains. “You could count on thirty days of clear, sunny weather, but it is no longer that way. It used to be that our marine fog didn’t start to show itself until the middle of August. It would come in a little bit in the morning, and now we begin to see that in the middle of July. Now we begin to get showers in late August and September, and that has really impacted the harvest season since we grow so much seed and grain. It’s become difficult to get those crops dried down so that we can harvest them. Our seed crops have become very difficult because of the instability in September.”
Unpredictable weather has not changed the diverse crop mix on Nash’s farm, but it has required him to buy more tractors, tools, processing equipment, and combines to take advantage of increasingly narrow windows of time when conditions are right to get field work done. And Nash is doing a lot more dynamic cropping these days. “We switch out crops, depending on how the weather is affecting our ability to do fieldwork,” says Nash. “For example, if we can’t get into the field early enough in the fall, we put in barley instead of wheat. It’s very, very quick decision-making. We have a generalized pattern and then we switch up the crops depending upon what fields we can get into, when we can get into them and how much of each grain that we need.”
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