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Farms In The USA Affected Due To Rise In Ocean And Salinity Levels

Farming the land may not be the best option. Another choice is to give in to nature and turn fields into wetlands.

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ocean, water, farms
Dr. Jessica Ball of USGS, a geologist and volcanologist who does research at the US Geological Survey, is updating Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists on the ground during a helicopter overflight of the ocean entry of the fissure 8 lava flow where a laze (lava haze) plume is visible over the active parts of the flow margin near Kapoho, Hawaii, June 8, 2018. VOA
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The fields grow shoulder-high with weeds out the window of Bob Fitzgerald’s Ford pickup. The drive through Fitzgerald’s neighborhood in Princess Anne, Maryland, is a tour of dying forests and abandoned cropland.

“A few years ago, all of this was a good farm,” he said. “And it’s gone, as a farm.”

The land along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay has been sinking for centuries. But climate change is adding a second whammy. As the sea level rises, salt water is seeping into the water table, deeper and deeper inland. The ground is becoming too salty for crops to grow.

Maryland’s Eastern Shore is home to some of the oldest farms in America. Fitzgerald’s dates back to 1666. He’s seen big changes in his lifetime.

“You just can’t believe how it’s taking things over in the last 15 or 20 years,” Fitzgerald said. “I can show you land around here that people raised tomatoes on when I was a little boy. And now it’s gone.”

Around the world, scientists warn that coastal farms are under threat from rising seas and encroaching salt water. A World Bank report estimates rice yields in coastal areas of Bangladesh may fall by more than 15 percent by 2050. Another report found that hundreds of millions of people will likely be displaced by rising waters.

Kate Tully aims to help keep Eastern Shore farmers in business as the seas rise.

The University of Maryland agroecologist had seen the “ghost forests” of dying pine trees killed by the increasingly salty soil. When she started looking at maps, she said, “I realized that a lot of the land that was upslope wasn’t just forests, it was farms. And so I started poking around and talking to people and asking if this was an issue on farms.”

It was. But “a lot of people hadn’t really been talking about it” outside their own communities, she said.

With a new $1.1 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tully and her colleagues are aiming to give farmers options.

water, farm
Farmer Joe Layton Jr., of Vienna, stands in a field of recently planted soybean crop Wednesday, June 11, 2003. In front soybeans begin to sprout up but because of the wet weather, many seeds rotted in the soil and did not sprout. VOA

Test plots scattered around the Eastern Shore are trying out different crops.

“One thing that I’m very pleasantly surprised about is how well the sorghum does,” Tully said. The grain crop may be a good choice to feed the roughly 600 million chickens raised in the region each year. It’s a hardy crop that can handle salt, drought and heavy rains.

Tully’s group is also testing barley to supply the growing microbrew industry; the oilseed canola; switchgrass, a possible biofuel crop; and salt-tolerant soybeans.

Just being able to grow a crop isn’t enough, though. It also has to be profitable. An economist on the team will be running the numbers.

“I never want to recommend something that would make farmers go out of business,” Tully said.

But farming the land may not be the best option. Another choice is to give in to nature and turn fields into wetlands.

Farms in countryside
Farm in countryside, Pixabay

Wetlands attract waterfowl. Waterfowl attract hunters.

“There’s money in duck hunting,” Tully said. Hunting clubs will pay farmers for exclusive access to wetlands on their property. “It can be a lucrative pathway.”

Also Read:  Whale Art To Raise Awareness About Ocean Pollution

Tully and her colleagues are just getting started. It will be a few years before they have recommendations for what will sustain communities that have been farming this land for centuries.

“There’s a lot of history there. And as these seas rise, some of that history is going underwater,” Tully said. “And I find that to be a pretty moving, pretty motivating reason to try to figure out what we can do for these farmers.” (VOA)

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The Ocean And Its Climate Crisis

Globally, fishing is a $140 billion to $150 billion business annually

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Oceans, boats
Lobster boats are moored in the harbor in Stonington, Maine. VOA

To stand at the edge of an ocean is to face an eternity of waves and water, a shroud covering seven-tenths of the Earth.

Hidden below are mountain ranges and canyons that rival anything on land. There you will find the Earth’s largest habitat, home to billions of plants and animals — the vast majority of the living things on the planet.

In this little-seen world, swirling super-highway currents move warm water thousands of miles north and south from the tropics to cooler latitudes, while cold water pumps from the poles to warmer climes.

Ocean
Artisanal fishing boats moored in the harbor at Nouadhibou, the main port in Mauritania. VOA

It is a system that we take for granted as much as we do the circulation of our own blood. It substantially regulates the Earth’s temperature, and it has been mitigating the recent spike in atmospheric temperatures, soaking up much of human-generated heat and carbon dioxide. Without these ocean gyres to moderate temperatures, the Earth would be uninhabitable.

In the last few decades, however, the oceans have undergone unprecedented warming. Currents have shifted. These changes are for the most part invisible from land, but this hidden climate change has had a disturbing impact on marine life — in effect, creating an epic underwater refugee crisis.

Reuters has discovered that from the waters off the East Coast of the United States to the coasts of West Africa, marine creatures are fleeing for their lives, and the communities that depend on them are facing disruption as a result.

ocean, fish, sardines
A fisherman unloads sardines at the port in Matosinhos, Portugal. VOA

As waters warm, fish and other sea life are migrating poleward, seeking to maintain the even temperatures they need to thrive and breed. The number of creatures involved in this massive diaspora may well dwarf any climate impacts yet seen on land.

In the U.S. North Atlantic, for example, fisheries data show that in recent years, at least 85 percent of the nearly 70 federally tracked species have shifted north or deeper, or both, when compared to the norm over the past half-century. And the most dramatic of species shifts have occurred in the last 10 or 15 years.

Fish have always followed changing conditions, sometimes with devastating effects for people, as the starvation that beset Norwegian fishing villages in past centuries when the herring failed to appear one season will attest. But what is happening today is different: The accelerating rise in sea temperatures, which scientists primarily attribute to the burning of fossil fuels, is causing a lasting shift in fisheries.

The changes below the surface are not an academic matter.

Ocean, lobster
Lindsay Copeland Frazier holds lobsters caught on her father’s boat in Stonington, Maine. VOA

Globally, fishing is a $140 billion to $150 billion business annually, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, and in some parts of the world, seafood accounts for half of the average person’s diet. But the effects of this mass migration in the world’s ocean are also much more intimate than that.

From lobstermen in Maine to fishermen in North Carolina, livelihoods are at stake. For sardine-eating Portuguese and seafood-loving Japanese, cultural heritages are at risk. And a burgeoning aquaculture industry, fueled in part by the effects of climate change, is decimating traditional fishing in West Africa and destroying coastal mangrove swamps in Southeast Asia.

Also Read: 60 percent Wildlife Lost In Just Four Decades: Report

Reuters journalists have spent more than a year collecting their stories and little-reported data to bring you this series revealing the natural disaster unfolding beneath the whitecaps. (VOA)