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Nithin Coca headshot

Unseasonable Warm Spells Endanger Fruit Crops Nationwide

By Nithin Coca

Plants are blooming early across the country as a result of this winter's ongoing record warmth, which many connect to climate change. And some fear that an impending freeze could destroy countless fruit flowers and wreak havoc on the industry.

It certainly seems like America's farmers can't get a break. Over the last few years they endured a record-breaking drought in the largest agricultural region, California's central valley. Now, California is wet (though still in drought), but another potential threat looms after the recent warm spell across the Midwest and East Coast.

To summarize: Since fruit trees flowered early, even a quick freeze later this season could be devastating, Bloomberg's Brian K. Sullivan, Megan Durisin and Jeff Wilson reported last week.

“Fruit growers are afraid the crops are developing too early and will get hit with a freeze,” Mark Longstroth, extension fruit educator at Michigan State University in Paw Paw, told Bloomberg. “Everyone would be happy if we had some cooler temperatures to slow down development.”

This could be the norm if we don't start to tackle climate change soon. Weather patterns are getting weirder across the world, with extreme heat, precipitation and wind events growing in frequency. Plants can adapt, but on evolutionary time scales. Few plants can adapt to the changes humans have created in the atmosphere because they are happening so fast – hence, agricultural failures. How are America's fruit trees supposed to know its February when its 71 degrees in upstate New York?

Scientists say climate change will have wide-ranging impacts on agriculture around the world. In some areas, rains will become heavier, making it tougher for soil to absorb water, meaning it will be more difficult for plants to gain access to water when it's dry. In other areas, seasonal shifts could impacts the behaviors of symbiotic species, such as bees, upon which many plants rely. The truth is, we still know little about how climate will impact complex ecosystems due to limited research – except that it will likely be significant, and we're not prepared.

Unfortunately, as any electoral map can show you, those living in farming regions across the country voted overwhelmingly for a presidential candidate who blamed California's drought on environmentalists and, as we now know, is setting up an administration that will be historic in its denial of science. Sadly, it will be local farmers who will suffer the most from climate change if President Donald Trump succeeds in his anti-climate agenda.

Let's hope that cold doesn't bring about a massive fruit flower freeze across the U.S. this spring. But unless we act fast to both prevent further emissions and adapt to the expected climate shifts due to historical emissions, it's not a matter of if farmers will suffer. It's a question of when.

Image credit: Gosiak via Pixabay

Nithin Coca headshot

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

Read more stories by Nithin Coca