There Is No More Normal: New England’s Farmers Lead Conversations on Climate Impacts - American Farmland Trust

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May 22nd, 2024

There Is No More Normal: New England’s Farmers Lead Conversations on Climate Impacts

AFT’s New England Team creates space for farmers to share their experiences and knowledge with one another at No More Normal events.

In 2022, New England farms faced a historic drought. Irrigation ponds dried up, hay yields plummeted– further threatening the already precarious position of the region’s remaining dairy farmers– and wildlife emerged from the desiccated forests and meadows, dramatically increasing foraging pressure on crops. Farmers across the region took big hits to their profits, which they struggle to recover from even today. At Plainville Farm, where Wally Czajkowski’s family has farmed since 1914, the 2022 drought pushed Wally to the point of considering abandoning some of the sandier fields he has long farmed; the risk of loss from drought was becoming too great. Later that season, Julie Fine, New England Climate and Agriculture Specialist at AFT visited Plainville Farm to discuss growing conditions with Wally. She asked, “well, what do you do in a normal growing season?” Immediately, he responded: “Julie. There is no more normal.” 

This exchange planted a seed that would grow into the No More Normal Farmer Roundtable events, organized and facilitated by AFT’s New England Climate and Agriculture Team (NECAT). Many of us farmers ourselves, we know that change in agriculture is driven by farmers sharing knowledge directly with one another. No More Normal events let farmers – the industry experts – take the lead in difficult conversations on climate change and solutions to protect the viability of farms while service providers attend to listen. 

In the winter of 2022-2023, we held two No More Normal Roundtables in Western and Southeast Massachusetts, which you can read about here. In 2023-2024, we held three: one for dairy farmers hosted by Barstow’s Dairy Farm in Hadley in collaboration with NRCS MA, and two that were open to any farmers; one held in Northeastern Massachusetts and hosted by Farmer Dave’s, and one in central Connecticut hosted by River Ridge Farm in collaboration with the New Connecticut Farmers Alliance.

Common Themes: Unpredictability and Extremes  

They’ve been warning us that this variability would come with climate change, and that’s what we’re seeing. End of 2022, you’re coming out of a drought and irrigating into May, so you invest in more irrigation. Then in June, the sky opens up, and it never stops raining, and you don’t need that investment—there is an added cost to [managing] around the variability.” Farmer Roundtable Participant

Farmer attendees at recent No More Normal events spoke on issues that affect them on both small and large scales, such as unpredictability and increasing extremes in weather events.  

What We Heard: 
  • Spring temperatures are changing and getting less predictable, which makes planting dates more uncertain.
  • Extreme high and low temperatures in spring damage fruit development or reduce yield in orchards and berry production.
  • Precipitation is changing, bringing challenges to managing too much or too little water. This affects planting, weeding, harvesting, and managing fertility and pests.
  • Weather forecasts based on historical averages seem to be increasingly unreliable.
  • Faraway climate impacts are beginning to be felt at home; for example, smoke from Canada’s wildfires affected New England farmers in summer 2023, causing concerns about crop production and farm workers’ health. 

“We all know there are cycles to weather. But the degree of wetness or dryness, the difference in those extremes seems to be growing,” said one of the Connecticut participants. 

Localized Themes: Barstow’s Dairy Farm  

The No More Normal event at Barstow’s Dairy Farm convened dozens of local dairy farmers. We heard many dairy farmers talk about the intense challenges of racing unpredictable weather patterns to complete tasks on the farm. Interestingly, another common issue raised in the dairy farmer’s roundtable was communicating with landowners; farmers felt this was getting more challenging over time. Dairy farmers also brought up a wide range of solutions and adaptations, from hay baleage to double cropping. No-till was a common theme in the solutions discussion. Most farmers reported improvements to field accessibility, drainage, and efficiency from no-till; however, some spoke to the learning curve involved in mastering itAs one farmer said, “No-till is an art, and not everyone here is an artist.”

What We Heard: 

Challenges with Changing Weather: 

  • Conditions are too wet, making fields inaccessible with equipment like tractors.More hot days cause stress to livestock.
  • Too much or too little precipitation slashes yields for feed, so farmers must buy it in, adding unexpected costs.
  • Heavy rains reduce the nutrient value of manure by diluting manure lagoons, making farmers spend more time and money trucking less effective fertilizer.

Challenges with Communicating with Landowners: 

  • Farmers at No More Normal Roundtables felt that managing relationships with non-farming landowners has become more complicated over time.Farmers are concerned about a general disconnect between themselves and non-farming landowners, which can create barriers to implementing practical, sustainable, and regenerative practices on their leased farmland.
  • Non-farming landowners don’t always understand the intricacies of farming and increasingly object to fertilizer inputs, manure, pesticides, and tillage.

Solutions and Adaptations: 

  • MA State flooding relief funding has been helpful for farmers impacted by heavy rains.
  • Farmers are shifting away from dry hay to baleage to better adapt to wetter weather.
  • Efficient baling equipment is expensive, and dairy farmers would have better access to it if programs offered financial assistance for this investment.
  • Farmers found success double-cropping feed fields by planting cover crops that can be harvested for green chop or baleage in springtime.
  • One farmer noted that the digestibility of triticale baleage specifically helped his cows cope with heat stress.
  • Most farmers reported improvements to field accessibility, drainage, and efficiency from no-till; however, some spoke to the learning curve involved in mastering it.
Localized Themes: Farmer Dave’s 

“[Keeping up with irrigation], sixteen hours a day, 100 days in a row– it feels impossible, the heat on the crew… It’s 100 degrees, and you’re asking folks to go out there.” – Farmer Participant.

At the Roundtable Discussion at Farmer Dave’s in Dracut, farmers spoke of the intersecting emotional and physical stressors they face in an era of constant change. One farmer described farming in today’s climate as feeling like “increasingly trying to kill yourself for small windows in which you can get the same work done that you used to have more time to do.” Another farmer spoke of working long, hard hours moving irrigation pipe in the heat, an unpleasant and exhausting task that left little time for planting, harvesting, and the other essential tasks of farming.  

What We Heard 

Challenges from Increasing Development  

  • Development and climate change pose unique challenges that bring wildlife closer to farms and human settlement. For example, one farmer mentioned seeing coyotes knocking down and eating his corn.
  • Farmland availability is on the decline as land gets developed. Some of this pressure is less intense in Western MA than in Eastern MA, but it is still a concern.  

Challenges from Changing Weather Patterns 

We try to be careful about traffic on wet soils– soil compaction has a legacy that is hard to reverse,” said one farmer. Another pointed out that “deep frost used to break up compaction, but now we don’t get those anymore, so the compaction isn’t getting undone and you’re starting with worse drainage than the previous year. 

  • Field hydrology patterns are changing, making proper irrigation rates tricky to predict.
  • Keeping up with irrigation is challenging for all in dry years.
  • In wet years, increased pressure from disease and weeds makes field operations complicated.
  • Endlessly wet fields make it impossible to do basic field work without causing compaction.

Solutions and Adaptations 

  • Building soil health is a primary adaptation used by farmers, who described a direct relationship between investments in soil health and greater whole-farm resilience.
  • Using cover crops and mulches to protect soils while building organic material in soil was a common strategy.
  • Some farmers mentioned scaling down operations to reduce risk and workload.
  • Several farmers spoke on the importance of building community and relationships with customers and farm supporters to ensure a resilient and integrated farm community.
Localized Themes: River Ridge Farm 

Every time it rains, it’s been a giant rain. Every time the wind blows, it’s a giant wind,” – Connecticut Roundtable Farmer Participant 

Primarily attended by young and beginning vegetable and flower farmers, participants at the Connecticut Roundtable at River Ridge Farm were open about the impact of climate change on their mental health and long-term outlooks.  

One farmer felt discouraged at developing hard-won experience only to have that experience feel less applicable in the face of disruption.

“I started farming in 2010, and I remember having that in my mind that I was going to have to [do] this for a really long time before I knew anything. Now that I’ve farmed for 14 years, it seems like that line is getting farther away. We felt like we were just starting to dial things in, and now it’s not working again.” 

What We Heard 

Weather Challenges: Wind 

  • Unlike the MA roundtables, every farmer in attendance at this event mentioned wind.
  • Participants spoke of losing high tunnels, infrastructure damage, and stressful nights listening to the wind and worrying about their crops and structures.
  • Precipitation intensity also came up repeatedly at this event. 

Sorrow and Urgency 

  • While some referenced despair and rage, most expressed a mixture of sorrow and urgency. “It makes it hard to be a farmer, but it reinforces my drive to be a farmer,” summed up one person.
  • Another shared, “There are some moments, where mental health-wise, it’s very hard to be a farmer. I see, very clearly, the effects that changes are having on the world, and it’s scary and overwhelming. That sucks because one of the reasons we get into farming is that there is so much joy that we get from our community and from interacting in the world in this way. But there’s also the sorrow that these changes… can make us feel powerless. At the same time, I feel that we’re really well equipped to help our communities and respond to climate change.
  • This group expressed optimism in the ability to find solutions and to adapt and seemed to fuel their sense of purpose as farmers from their experiences of adversity. But one participant described resistance to having her experience oversimplified to a story of empowerment, “I don’t want that to negate what we carry. We joke about planning for the apocalypse, but there is a deeper, more unsettling thing we carry in our back pockets as we do that work. A less tangible thing we carry with us.

Solutions and Adaptations 

“There are a lot of things we can’t control, so we focus on the things we can. We’re doing no till and cover cropping to tend to the soil.” 

  • As with other No More Normal conversations, the farmers at the Connecticut Roundtable mentioned building soil health for greater farm resilience.
  • Most attendees spoke of investing in ways to control heat, shade, and pests through the use of different types of insect netting, shade cloths, row covers, and ventilation systems.
  • Some farmers mentioned investing resources in building high tunnels and greenhouse automation systems that used AI models to make fine adjustments to ventilation systems, controlling heat and humidity with less reliance on constant human attention and manual adjustments.
  • Other farmers described various methods for re-creating systems that allow for better control over adjustments based on observed conditions; one flower grower moved all her heat-sensitive starts into bulb crates so that she could move them in and out of the high tunnel if spring temperatures began to swing erratically.


At AFT New England, we are committed to supporting farmers in a variety of ways as they plan, adapt to, and respond to climate change.  

Start the process of planning for the resilience of your farm: download our Climate Adaptation Planning Worksheet here.  

If you would like to partner with us to bring a No More Normal Roundtable to your farming community, we are currently considering locations for our 2024-2025 series. You can contact Caro Roszell at to inquire.  

Sign up for email updates from American Farmland Trust New England to hear about future opportunities to participate in events like our No More Normal Roundtables. We also share regional opportunities related to financial assistance, technical support, and education for soil health and New England climate adaptation. 

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