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Enlighten Me: First State farmers adapt to new climate ‘norms’

Delaware Public Media

Delaware’s climate has gotten warmer and wetter in recent decades. Thenew climate “normals” the federal government released last week made this clear.

And Delaware’s farmers are among the groups working to adapt to the changes.

In this week’s Enlighten Me, Delaware Public Media’s Sophia Schmidt talks with Emmalea Ernest and David Owens of the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension about what the First State’s “new normal” means for agriculture

Thenew climate “normals” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released last week underscored that Delaware has gotten warmer in recent decades, particularly in the winters. 

The average yearly temperature in Delaware for the thirty-year period ending in 2020 was generally between .5 and 1 degree fahrenheit warmer than for the period ending in 2010. And the growing season was a few days longer. 


Kevin Brinson, associate state climatologist for Delaware, says the change in the official climate normals is consistent with long-term trends in the state’s temperature records. He says six of the warmest years on record in Delaware happened between 2011 and 2020. 

Brinson says the new “normal” growing season is 4 days longer in Dover, and 15 days longer in Georgetown. 

Emmalea Ernest, vegetable and fruit scientist with University of Delaware’s Cooperative Extension, says the changes cause uncertainty for farmers. 

“The changes aren’t so well established and known that we can rely on those changes in the climate, so some of the data from NOAA will help us to do that,” she said. 

Farmers must also adapt in how they manage pests. 

“Generally [warmer winters] will favor more pests, or at least shift some of the timing of those pests,” said David Owens, an extension specialist with the University of Delaware who focuses on entomology. “So certain insect pests may come out a little bit earlier than they otherwise would have.”

The cooperative extension is doing trials on different varieties of crops for resilience to heat stress. They’re also working on developing growing techniques that could help crops thrive under the changing conditions.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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