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Climate change affecting local farmers, produce

Climate change affecting local farmers, produce
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Climate change affecting local farmers, produce

EVANSVILLE, Wis. - Some local farmers are feeling less confident going into this growing season because of an unusually wet 2018. 

"There's stuff to figure out every year because conditions are different every year," said Steve Pincus. 

Pincus has been farming for most of his adult life, but his 43 years of experience didn't prepare him for the weather his farm in Evansville saw last year. 

"It was by far the wettest year I've ever seen," said Pincus. 

He said the change was so dramatic, that it was Tipi Produce's worst season for production overall.

"We've seen a lot of heavy rainfalls, by that I mean 2- and 3-inch pounding rains. And that always has happened some, but now it's happening frequently," said Pincus. 

His sensitive vegetables, such as carrots, couldn't handle the heavy rains. 

"It beats up the plants, it creates wounds, it opens them up to disease. And one or two storms a year, OK they will recover, they'll heal from it. But when it's too frequent, there's too much moisture and humidity in the air, we see a lot more plant diseases," he said. 

He said it's pretty clear the climate is changing and farmers must be on their toes. 

"Although the weather is always bouncing up and down, we've always felt like there was this baseline climate that we could count on that was average," said Pincus. "We're really taking risks and we want the weather to be on our side. We're always working around that average, and if that average is changing quickly, then we're going to have trouble."

Last year, he lost about a quarter of his sales, so earnings were essentially zero.

"Normally I would say yes, we're going to do better, but last year was such a big deal, the weather was so intense, that it put some doubt in my mind, and that's hard to farm with that doubt," said Pincus. 

He isn't the only local farmer who had less food to sell last year. Willy Street Co-Op saw less produce from many of their farmers. 

"We probably saw some that had 50-75% losses, which for a younger farmer that doesn't have a lot of resources built up, could be really, really detrimental to their business," said Megan Minnick, Willy Street Co-Op's purchasing director.

This meant they had less local produce to put on the shelves, and the little local produce they did have had to be sold at a higher price. 

"Most years all through September our produce sales are local, and this year we were hurting to find even a few things that we had enough volume that we could actually promote and sell a lot of," said Minnick. 

David Bachhuber is starting his third year of full-time farming and his first year on his own farm. 

"We actually based our land purchase thinking about climate change," said Bachhuber. "We know that if we have a drought, we have a great well and we're covered there. And we know that if it rains too much, we get a little bit of drainage without having our soil wash out."

He said he didn't really realize the climate change last year because he is so new to the industry.  

"It's actually been in talking to older farmers that I could really find out, 'Wow this is very much outside the norm,'" he said. 

Pincus is one of his mentors. 

Bachhuber said one bad, wet year for a more mature farmer such as Pincus is just one of many good, dryer years. But for him. seeing heavy rains has been about 40% of his initial experience as a farmer, so he wants to be prepared for it to continue. 

"At the end of the day, the whole key is adaptability. If it's rain, if it's hail, if it's snow, if it's random cold, if it's random heat, or it's a total drought, we have to be prepared for all of those things, and so it really is about using our time now to be able to prepare for that and not be surprised," said Bachhuber.

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