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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Climate Change Impacts on Agriculture, Local Food, and Vulnerable Communities

Credit: Cooper Phyllis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Credit: Cooper Phyllis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Jennifer Wilhelm

NASA scientists report that 2015 is expected to be the hottest year on record. The summer and the months of September and October were the hottest recorded, but what does a global temperature increase of half a degree mean for the food system? Most of us have heard about the dire predictions for moose, public health, and extreme weather events, but few have heard about the ways climate changes will affect the agricultural industry and the food we consume.

On November 23, the New Hampshire Sierra Club organized a roundtable discussion about food system challenges related to climate change. Individuals from New Hampshire organizations and businesses gathered at Dimond Hill Farm in Concord, NH for the discussion that covered a wide range of topics, from extreme weather events to food insecurity. Additionally, Jane Presby, owner of Dimond Hill Farm, gave a tour of the farm to illustrate specific examples of how climate change has affected her operation.

An extended warm period followed by hard frost can lead to crop loss and is one example of how climate change can affect agriculture in the Northeast. Other threats to northeastern agriculture include extreme precipitation, drought, and pests. Erin Lane, Director for the USDA Northeast Climate Hub explained, “In our synthesis of assessed vulnerabilities in northeastern agriculture and forestry, we found that perennial crops, such as tree fruit, are among the region’s most vulnerable products.” Presby has seen some of these changes on her farm and notes that “climate change is creating new challenges for the sustainability of food production in our region, our country, and our world.”

In addition to the direct effects of climate change on agricultural production, food insecurity can intensify with increased agricultural instability; when crops fail and food prices increase, those who are most vulnerable are at greater risk. According to Jessica Carson, a research scientist at the Carsey School of Public Policy, “recent estimates show that one in ten Granite Staters are food insecure, meaning that about 132,000 of our families, friends, and neighbors do not have access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.” Catherine Corkery of New Hampshire Sierra Club also points out that “New Hampshire is not immune to the impacts of climate – though at times the most catastrophic impacts happen far from our communities. The effects of climate change do not take holidays off; rather, during the holidays it amplifies the hardship.”

Local efforts are underway to address these issues and improve the connections among our local farmers, producers, and consumers so that products can reach a diversity of markets effectively and profitably. The NH Food Alliance is a growing network of stakeholders collaborating to build a food system that is good for people, businesses, communities, and the environment. Their work focuses on connecting the successful efforts already underway as well as proposing a systems approach to solving the many pressing issues food producers and consumers face. Their first initiative centers on advancing farm, fish, and food enterprise viability in New Hampshire, with the knowledge that local solutions to issues as diverse as climate change and food insecurity can be achieved by supporting local farms, fisheries, and food producers.

To learn more about the NH Food Alliance, visit

Jennifer Wilhelm is a research associate of the NH Food Alliance and a doctoral candidate at University of New Hampshire’s Natural Resources and Earth Systems Sciences program.

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