In July of this year, two months’ of rain fell in two days on David Marchant’s fields. Despite his efforts, River Berry Farm quickly lost upward of 10 acres of crops, with lettuce and summer squash swimming in the flooded Vermont fields. The downpour cost him around $150,000 in just 48 hours.
The storm wiped out roads and bridges and inundated homes across the state. The catastrophe came at a particularly hard time of year for farmers to face disaster. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets estimates that the state’s food producers lost over $16 million as a result — somewhere between one-third and one-half of all the state’s yield.
Research from the American Farm Bureau Federation suggests that nationwide natural disasters caused $21.5 billion in agricultural losses last year. Only about half of those were protected by insurance, the majority of which is sold through federally-backed programs. Their payouts to farmers have increased by over 500% in the last two decades.
As the climate changes, American farmers face many new threats to their harvests and business models. More frequent floods and droughts can wipe out months of work overnight. Rising temperatures are expected to slow plant growth in the Northern Hemisphere within the next decade, while higher carbon dioxide levels reduce the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables. Altogether, a recent NASA study found that some yields could decrease by 24% as soon as 2030.