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Helping local farms respond to climate change

With its short growing seasons, dramatic weather variations, and smaller operations that leave less ability to recover from disappointing yields, farming is a challenging occupation in these parts in the best of years. This is not the best of years.

It has been a wet growing season, with deluges in some spots. Some farmers have lost crops to outright flooding, others have seen vegetables succumb to rot and fungus due to prolonged damp conditions.

While it can’t be said with certainty whether such wet conditions are an anomaly or a sign of things to come, climate change models do predict one result of global warming is likely to be more participation in the Northeast. The time is now for the Department of Agriculture to begin its planning for that possibility.

Supporting local farming is important for a few reasons. It is an essential part of the region’s heritage. It is a significant contributor to the local economy. Buying local has positive environmental benefits, cutting fuel use and greenhouse emissions to get food on our plates. And you won’t find fresher, more nutritious alternatives than locally grown produce.

While farms are eligible for federal disaster relief funds when a natural calamity strikes, paying damages for crops that are being damaged with regularity by storms makes no more sense than rebuilding shorelines and beachfront houses felled by rising seas, erosion, and frequent ocean storms.

Farmers are better than most at adapting, and the state should stand ready to assist them in those adaptation efforts with expert advice and targeted aid. Changes could include moving to more water-resistant crops, improving soil drainage, and increased use of the “high tunnels,” those greenhouse-like hoop structures that allow for sun, but mitigate against damp conditions, and which can extend growing seasons.

State, local governments, and consumers through their buying choices, should also do all they can to promote farm-to-table restaurants that make it a priority to place locally grown food products on the menu and in the dinner the plate.

Connecticut would not be the same without its farms. Locally grown produce may cost more than the fruits and vegetables shipped from faraway places to local supermarkets, but it is an investment in maintaining the region’s character and it usually tastes great.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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