The looming threat of climate change is already affecting many aspects of Maine’s potato industry, from the economic impact on the state’s trees to the rising costs of supplemental irrigation and energy needed to store harvested potatoes.
Impacts of climate change on Maine’s economy
Maine’s economy is particularly vulnerable to climate change because of the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and tourism industries. Extreme weather events harm virtually every economic sector. In Maine, storms have increased in frequency and intensity, and water holds more weight in the atmosphere. In fact, during extreme high tides, the causeway on the island of Deer Isle overtopped. Residents are worried about washouts.
Warmer temperatures have increased the incidence of tick-borne diseases in northern New England. As the temperatures rise, these harmful algal blooms will increase in frequency, affecting human health and the health of animals. In addition to food safety, warming oceans may cause damage to native fish and shellfish populations and result in the decline of some Maine species. The rising temperatures will also increase flooding and damage to infrastructure. While this may seem small, these changes have already impacted Maine’s economy.
As part of the state’s response to climate change, Gov. LePage gathered a group to identify vulnerabilities and develop strategies to coordinate complex solutions across agencies. The group included representatives from five state agencies and the governor’s office. The group was charged with identifying the actions that each agency could take to prepare for and cope with the effects of climate change. The group also suggested ways to improve coordination across the agencies.
In addition to causing public health and the economy, climate change is impacting the Gulf of Maine’s tourism industry. For instance, the Gulf of Maine is warming twice as fast as 99% of the world’s oceans. The increased heat will make outdoor jobs more dangerous for workers, the elderly, and people with respiratory problems. It will also cause coastal flooding, and rising sea levels will make storms more common.
The climate change report from the United Nations warns that the planet is warming too fast for human survival. If this continues, the effects on these groups will be more severe, and the poorest will be hit the hardest. In Maine, key species and fisheries will continue to decline. Additionally, the state will face more challenges in implementing climate plans fairly. Adapting to climate change is also essential to avoid these problems.
Impacts of climate change on native tree species
Climate change is changing Maine’s forests, and the future composition of Maine’s forests will likely depend on climate influences, interactions with rodents, and seed dispersion. The effects of climate change are difficult to predict. But Maine’s forests are particularly vulnerable to warming temperatures and are likely to be affected more quickly than other areas.
As the sea level rises, saltwater will enter fresh groundwater, disrupting wetland ecosystems. Temperature and soil moisture changes will force plants to migrate higher in elevations. The result is a shift in the plant zone, which will affect ecosystems on both sides of the range shift. A range shift in one plant species will profoundly impact the other.
High temperatures in Maine will lead to increased insect damage. Insects like Colorado potato beetles are more likely to breed. And with warmer temperatures, crops will bud earlier and be susceptible to spring frosts. This was one of the causes of the smaller 2016 apple harvest. In addition, higher humidity levels will stress livestock and reduce their productivity. Soil loss will also increase if farmers don’t water their crops.
As ocean acidification increases, fish and shellfish production may also decrease. Acidification has already affected aquaculture operations in Maine and may affect shellfish in the future. Some harvesters already add acid relief chemicals to shellfish sites to ensure that these species remain healthy. Meanwhile, all sectors of the state’s economy will be affected by climate change. Increasing temperatures will cause damage to infrastructure and increase the incidence of storms.
Costs of supplemental irrigation
Farmers across Maine are beginning to ask themselves: Can I afford supplemental irrigation on my land? This is the question on the minds of many generational farmers and industry experts. One of those farmers, BD Grass & Sons, is experimenting with new irrigation systems to combat climate change and improve the soil health of his farm. He farms 2,500 acres of potatoes every year and prioritizes purchasing farms near healthy water sources.
While supplemental irrigation is an essential part of farming in dry areas, it’s also expensive, consuming 3,000 gallons of fuel daily. Adding supplemental irrigation to the parched fields would require an extra $15,000 per acre and be highly inefficient. Further, climate change will likely cause more frequent droughts and warmer temperatures, and these conditions would damage crops. While supplemental irrigation is necessary, farmers in Maine must also consider the impact of climate change on their crops.
Although some farmers rely on supplemental irrigation to protect their crops, many farms aren’t relying on it. These farmers rely on irrigation and crop protection to protect their crops from environmental problems. This practice could be costly for the farmers, but it will be worth it if the state can keep up with the demands of a growing industry.
Cost of energy to store harvested potatoes
While farmers can always reduce the energy they use to store their harvested produce, this practice is no longer sustainable. Climate change is affecting Maine potatoes and other crops in several ways. One example is the increased energy required to keep harvested potatoes at the proper temperature, making it more expensive to grow and sell the crop. Other farmers are adopting new technologies to ensure the quality of their products. In addition to using new varieties that are more resistant to climate change, farmers are also adopting better storage methods and longer crop rotations.
Growing degree days have increased by nearly 20 percent since 1970. Growing degree days measure how much heat accumulates during the growing season and how quickly it depletes energy. While this extra heat extends the growing season for potatoes in Maine, it also poses several challenges. Increased heat stress can kill a potato plant, and Additionally, it can cause unpredictable rainfall.
In addition to the energy costs for storage, potatoes are also affected by disease outbreaks. The disease A1 blight, which affects the leaves, kills plants quickly during hot and dry weather. The A2 blight is resistant to three weeks of drought but spreads quickly through the plant when it rains. Another effect of climate change on the price of potatoes in Maine is the increase in disease and pest pressure.