Peter Hanlon, a 68-year-old farmer from Boston, has been rising cranberries in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for many years. Cranberries are in Hanlon’s blood — his grandfather farmed them on the cape earlier than him. However six weeks in the past, Hanlon bought his farm within the city of Sandwich. None of his youngsters wished to hold on the custom, and Hanlon doesn’t blame them: Revenue margins are extremely tight, and more and more erratic climate patterns in recent times have made cranberries harder to develop.
“The final two storms, in ‘15 and ‘17, scared me,” Hanlon stated. He recollects seeing an 11-foot surge of ocean water coming into his farm by the woods and inundating his vines, dooming lots of them to die from salt publicity.
Cranberry farmers in Massachusetts have needed to deal with wildly fluctuating environmental circumstances over the previous a number of years. The 2015 and 2017 storms Hanlon referred to killed some coastal Massachusetts cranberry bogs after they flooded them with sea water, excessive temperatures and drought parched vines in 2020, and a deluge of rainfall pickled the state’s cranberry crop final 12 months, resulting in a nationwide scarcity. Massachusetts is the second-largest producer of cranberries within the nation behind Wisconsin, which additionally had a foul rising season final 12 months.
This 12 months, one other huge drought, fueled by local weather change, has farmers like Hanlon weighing their choices and making robust selections.
Massachusetts and far of the remainder of the Northeastern United States has been in a state of average to excessive drought for the higher a part of the summer time. Dry circumstances descended on the area in late spring and didn’t let up for months. Massachusetts handled a few of the worst drought within the Northeast: As of the tip of final month, 10 of its 14 counties have been experiencing excessive drought, and the remaining 4 have been experiencing extreme drought. “The growth or bust state of affairs that local weather change presents with regards to precipitation occasions — the growth being the massive precipitation occasion, the bust being lengthy dry spells — that’s not a very good factor,” Zachary Zobel, a scientist on the Woodwell Local weather Analysis Heart in Massachusetts, informed Grist.
The Massachusetts drought has begun to ease in current weeks, particularly after this previous week, when a spherical of soaking storms rolled into the Northeast. However it might take one other spherical or two of moist climate to make up for the months of drought that desiccated farm fields, depleted reservoirs, and sparked wildfires within the Northeast. And this 12 months’s drought is extra proof that farming circumstances are getting much less predictable.
“Farmers get up day-after-day and so they need to face regardless of the climate goes to current to them — that’s farming,” Brian Wick, government director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Affiliation, informed Grist. “But it surely’s fairly clear in speaking to many growers over the previous a number of years that this variation in local weather could be very actual and it’s actually beginning to affect how they farm.”
Cranberries are a finicky crop. An excessive amount of water, just like the state noticed final 12 months, may cause fungus to develop on cranberry vines and have an effect on the colour and high quality of the fruit. However add too little water, and the vines shrivel up and die, or the berries don’t develop to full maturity.
Farmers additionally want entry to ample recent water with a view to defend and harvest their cranberries. Cranberries develop on vines in dry fields very similar to grapes or another crop throughout a lot of the rising season. However twice a 12 months, farmers flood these dry fields with water and switch them into bogs: Within the spring, when a late frost may threaten to kill their budding cranberry vines, the flooding protects the tender shoots and flowers from freezing over. Within the fall, farmers activate their irrigation techniques once more to reap their berries. They use machines to shake the crops to launch the berries into the bathroom, the place they’re corralled into containers and shipped to locations throughout the nation.
With out water, there are not any cranberries. And with out cranberries, Massachusetts misses out on an trade that contributes roughly 7,000 jobs to its economic system and greater than $1 billion in annual financial exercise to the area.
To date, it seems to be like most cranberry farmers are going to drag by this 12 months, due to the current storms and to irrigation pumps, which farmers switched on all through the season to drag water from native sources and make up for misplaced rainfall. But it surely was a costlier rising season for that purpose — pumps run on gasoline or propane, and gas prices have been astronomical this summer time. And the drought isn’t over but. Wick received’t breathe straightforward till the berries are off the vines and loaded into vans. “We’ll see what we get for rainfall over the following few weeks,” he stated. “We nonetheless have a couple of month earlier than harvest to get some periodic rains.”
Normally, local weather change isn’t stopping the state’s cranberry farmers from rising their crop — but. “Cranberries in Massachusetts will proceed to thrive,” Wick stated, “however it’s going to be more difficult and tough, and so they’re going to need to adapt. You’re not going to have that good, constant rising season, it simply appears to be one excessive or one other.”
Peter Hanlon, the cranberry farmer who bought his farm, stated he’s glad he’s not attempting to beat the climate odds this 12 months or sooner or later. “My son tells me the climate goes to worsen,” he stated. However the climate has already been so unhealthy, Hanlon says, it’s arduous to think about an much more erratic season. “I reserve judgment on that,” he stated.
This story is a part of the Grist collection Parched, an in-depth take a look at how local weather change-fueled drought is reshaping communities, economies, and ecosystems.