TRAVERSE CITY — The climate crisis impacts the whole world, but effects are especially felt in the northwest corner of Lower Michigan.
Federal temperature records show that Benzie, Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties are warming at faster rates than most other places in the nation — an area renowned for its tart cherry and apple orchards. U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow came to the area Thursday to release her climate crisis report for Michigan and talk with local farmers and conservationists about the impacts and possible solutions.
“I don’t know what all the answers are yet, but I know we have a problem,” Stabenow said during the round-table discussion with local growers and environmental advocates at the Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center in Leelanau County.
The senator’s report identifies various ways in which climate change is affecting Michigan: fluctuating temperatures harm fruit crops; planting delays and insect damage to crops; erosion and flooding in coastal communities; warmer water threatens native fishes; extreme rain overwhelms infrastructure; more smog; and, greater exposure to diseased mosquitoes and ticks, among other effects.
Stabenow said agricultural methods could be part of the solution. The next step in the fight against climate change is to “slow this down,” she said.
Among the solutions discussed were renewable energy, carbon sequestration, soil conservation and more.
Jim Nugent, a Suttons Bay fruit grower and chairman of the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, said farmers in Michigan have the bulk of land available for wind and solar energy capture opportunities. The challenge is much of that land is not already connected to the electric grid, he said.
“We need to really think about how we incentivize that for farmers,” Nugent said.
Fruit grower Isaiah Wunsch of Old Mission Peninsula said he believes more farmers would pursue solar efforts if they had utility companies willing to work with them to sell their renewable energy onto the electric market. Only small utility businesses and cooperatives seem willing to participate, he said.
But renewable energy wasn’t the only topic.
Tim Boring, vice president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, said Michigan has many opportunities to improve soil health not only in the state’s fruit belt, but also among row crop farmers. In fact, some of the best suggestions for soil health improvements come from farmers, he said.
Jim Bardenhagen, a fruit and vegetable grower in Suttons Bay, said he believes more research is needed for biological efforts to combat soil problems. He also would like more resources to learn soil management methods, he said.
“You hear the term soil health, but who can you go to?” Bardenhagen asked.
Nikki Rothwell, pest management and horticultural educator with Michigan State University at the research center, said they offer soil health programs.
She also said that as wetter, warmer weather occurs and overall relative humidity increases, the region will experience more trouble with invasive pest insects and diseases.
Stabenow said her climate change report is not expected to influence current federal administrative officials. Multiple federal agencies under the administration of President Donald Trump are not publicizing or are even quashing climate research, the senator said.
Stabenow said Trump and his officials are “very much denying there is a climate crisis,” even rolling back progress made by prior administrations at every opportunity.
“That’s the reality for the moment, but I hope it will not be the reality in another year,” Stabenow said, later adding she wishes climate science had not become politicized.
The senator said that in the meantime, her climate change report is expected to be part of discussions with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers as they prepare for 2021, after the next general election when a new environmental agenda may be queued up.
“We need to respect and believe in science and work together to solve problems,” Stabenow said.
The report can be downloaded and read at www.stabenow.senate.gov online.