Head east on Long Island and the pavement gives way to wide open spaces of land dishing out scenic views alongside fruits and vegetables that help feed local residents. The Island is home to nearly 600 farms that play a vital role in the region’s economy while helping do their part to mitigate the effects of climate change.
According to a 2018 study, natural and working lands, like Long Island farms, have the potential to sequester 21% of national Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. In this same study, soil health management strategies like planting cover crops and reducing tillage are cited as some of the most cost effective, short-term, scalable opportunities for combating climate change, and yet they are underutilized across the landscape.
And, simply keeping land in farming and limiting sprawling development go a long way to help minimize GHG emissions as well. A report from American Farmland Trust found that one acre of New York farmland produces 66 times less GHG emissions than an acre of developed land, and if the annual loss of farmland to real estate development in the state was reduced by 80% by 2050, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 1 million cars from the road.
However, reducing the loss of farmland and keeping farms profitable on Long Island is not easy. The growing number and severity of extreme weather events, the high value and low availability of land, rising costs and global competition combine to create many risks for Long Island farms. Despite these challenges, a strong network of partner organizations have been working together to offer support and trainings for farmers to keep their businesses viable and to use practices that promote healthy soil such as cover crops, reduced tillage, crop rotations and nutrient management. These practices not only help reduce farm expenses and increase farm productivity, the resulting healthy soil retains nutrients and sediment in ways that improve water quality and reduce GHG emissions while improving infiltration and drainage to make farms more resilient to heavy rain or drought.
In 2016, local partners including American Farmland Trust, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Long Island Farm Bureau, and Peconic Land Trust hosted the first of several Long Island Soil Health Field Days at White Cap Farm on Mecox Bay on the South Fork, and at the Schmitt Family Farm on the North Fork. These events over the last several years have helped train more than 150 farmers about using soil regenerative practices on Long Island.
“We have what is known as a ‘sole source aquifer’ under Long Island” says Debbie Aller of Cornell Cooperative Extension Suffolk County. “Our sandy soils are very prone to leaching and runoff of pollutants, pesticides and nutrients leading to harmful algal blooms and contamination of our drinking water sources. We are promoting more soil health practices and working with farmers and partner organizations to address these issues which may be exacerbated by extreme weather events. We see a win-win where you can save farmers money while reducing environmental impact.”
Many of these partners are now working together to plan an upcoming event on Long Island to address the need to produce more solar energy, while balancing the need to protect our most productive farmland. On November 13th, a special forum on Combating Climate Change: Solar Energy, Farming and the Future in New York, will be held at Hotel Indigo in Riverhead, NY.
“It is inspiring to see this network of partner organizations working together so closely on Long Island,” said Aaron Ristow, New York Agricultural Stewardship Program Manager for American Farmland Trust. “These groups recognize that supporting farmers in keeping and caring for their land benefits everyone by creating cleaner water, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing resilience to extreme weather. These are things that everyone on Long Island should support.”
Join us in saving the land that sustains us. Get your free No Farms No Food bumper sticker and learn what you can do to help protect farmland and support environmentally sound farming practices in your community.