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N.J. Sierra Club: Changes in NJ Growing Season Show Climate Consequences

press release

Multiple recent studies have shown how climate change has changed New Jersey’s environment and potential for agriculture. A recent study by the Arbor Day Foundation and the USDA, shows how climate change has affected growing seasons across the country. Our state has moved down an entire hardiness zone, from 6 to 7, and now resembles that of Maryland or Virginia.

Some parts of southern New Jersey is in zone 8. According to data compiled by NOAA and the EPA, our growing season has increased and our chance of a spring frost has decreased. Both reports show us the consequences New Jersey is suffering from due to climate change.

“This report is a wake-up call about what climate change is doing to our environment in New Jersey and nationally. In only 25 years the climate and growing seasons of New Jersey has changed from being like the Hudson Valley in southern New England to being more like what was Virginia and even the Carolinas. From an agricultural perspective the state has moved into an entirely different zone, from 6 to a 7 with parts of South Jersey now classified in Zone 8. This zone was once only found below the Virginia-North Carolina border and in a quarter of a century we’re seeing it here in south Jersey. This is having major impacts on the environment and agriculture, and even our backyard gardens,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This report shows that climate change is real and New Jersey is facing the consequences of it.”

 

The Arbor Day Foundation and the USDA report showed a shift in hardiness since 1995. Hardiness zones are separated by a 10 degree Fahrenheit difference. This means that our temperatures have changed dramatically over the last 25 years. These changes will mean that farmers will have to change practices in growing season. They will be able to keep their bulbs in the soil over the winter. There may be more problems with not having water for irrigation, like we see in the southern states. It will also change what crops can be grown.

 

“In 1995 most of New Jersey was in Zone 6 but now the only a tiny part of the state still there is up in High Point. The rest of New Jersey is now in Zone 7, including the Highlands. This change in the Highlands could have a big impact on reservoirs, where we get half of our water from. In the summer when we have thunderstorms, the clouds hit the Highlands and get cold air, letting the rain drop and replenish our reservoirs. Now that we’re warmed up, the storm clouds may head to New England instead, bringing the rain there and bypassing New Jersey. This is changing our rainfall patterns which will impact our water supply and agriculture. This could also change our forest composition, with northern hardwoods being pushed out,” said Jeff Tittel. “If we start logging Sparta mountain, it may mean that the forest won’t regenerate and will be replaced by southern invasive species. The Highlands may end up being more like the Shenandoahs or the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

 

The Pinelands will also be affected by these changes. This includes a possible increase in invasive species. Many invasive species and inspects that normally die in the winter time may survive longer with our warmer temperatures. The Pine Barrens is a unique ecosystem that provides drinking water for millions of people and homes for many unique species of plants and animals. As temperatures rise and the climate shifts, the ecosystem will become more fragile.

 

“We’ve have seen the impacts of climate change in the Pinelands. They have moved from agricultural Zone 6 to Zone 7. This warming could impact many species in the Pinelands including blueberry and cranberry crops. Cranberries especially need cool water to survive. New Jersey is already the warmest place that can grow cranberries and now it’s getting even warmer. This could also harm animals such as the tree frog and other species that may be pushed out as other species move in. We used to be cold enough to deter the Southern Pine Beetle. This insect is a bark beetle that attacks the pine trees in the Pinelands. With the temperate increase we will most likely see them becoming more of a pest and harming more trees. We could see a major ecological shift in the already unique region,” said Jeff Tittel. “We may have to switch from growing tomatoes to growing cotton.”

The EPA’s study using NOAA’s temperate data shows a nation-wide increase in growing seasons. A growing season is the time in which crops are grown; the time between the last spring frost and first fall frost. The length and timing of the season changes which crops can be grown where. Growing seasons are influenced by a number of factors including precipitation, temperature, and daylight.

 

“The EPA study shows that the growing seasons across the country has increased by an average of two weeks. The long-term average shows that on average the country is less likely to have a spring frost. This means a change in what plants can be grown where. Changes in the growing season can cause problems with water availability. There will be less soil moisture because of the loss of snow pack leading a need for more irrigation, which can be expensive. We’re seeing strange weather patterns nation-wide. In March we have mild weather in New Jersey and a hailstorm in the South,” said Jeff Tittel. “People don’t need to retire to the Eastern shore of Maryland any more, they can just stay here in New Jersey.”

 

The change in hardiness zones and growing seasons reflects an overall change in climate in the state. New Jersey used to be the southern end of northern species and the northern end of southern species. This data means there will be a change in our species makeup with southern species possibly pushing out northern ones altogether. This can also mean a change in moisture patterns, effecting the soil and impacting crop growth. In the winter we need to keep our soils moist and recharge our aquifers and now it may be more difficult to do that.

 

“In the past 25 years in New Jersey, our growing season has lengthened, our temperatures have increased and we’ve become less likely to have a spring frost. When the growing season changes, farmers may suffer a loss of yield or diversity in what type of crops they can plant. By changing our climate with greenhouse gasses, we have changed the growing season for New Jersey. This will make agriculture much more complicated and even difficult to manage,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This report shows us what climate change is doing to our region. We need to take stronger actions to reduce greenhouse gasses and fight climate change. What will our agriculture will be like in the 25 years; will we be growing coconut palms in Cherry Hill or rice paddies in cranberry bogs?” 

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