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For CT farmers, changes in the climate, and in the agriculture industry, pose new challenges

Jon Hermonot (left) with his family that are partners of Fairholm Farm.
Courtesy of Fairholm Farm
Jon Hermonot (left) with his family that are partners of Fairholm Farm.

Connecticut is home to a $4 billion farming industry that supports 22,000 jobs. But in recent years, farms have been hard hit by climate change. 

Jon Hermonot is the owner of a dairy farm called Fairholm Farm in Woodstock, Connecticut. 

"Definitely the last couple years, it's amazing how we go from one extreme to the other from being too dry to being too wet,” Hermonot said. “So, it's definitely having a big impact."

Connecticut, like other states in New England, has experienced dramatic shifts in weather patterns from severe droughts to excessive rainfall. According to the Connecticut Examiner, in 2023 alone, state farmers reported $8.4 million in losses to frosts in February and May, as well as $21 million in losses due to floods in July.  According to Bryan Hurlburt, commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture, Connecticut got 425% of its average July rainfall total in the first two weeks of the month. 

Farmers are adapting to these conditions by planting different crop varieties and making strategic decisions to safeguard their livelihoods, Hermonot said.

"What we've been looking at is planting varieties of crops like corn with a shorter season, trying to get the corn off early enough in the fall before we get a frost. That way, we can establish our cover crop before winter," Hermonot explained.

Government-subsidized crop insurance has become a crucial tool for sustaining his businesses, Hermonot said.

"We've been buying crop insurance the last few years and that has been a tremendous tool for us," Hermonot said.

Connecticut farmers, however, said they face unique challenges that aren't fully addressed by traditional insurance programs. The state's agricultural landscape differs from large-scale operations in the South and Midwest, where farmers often raise vast quantities of livestock or grow vast "commodity" crops like corn or soybeans.

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture says greenhouse and nursery products account for over half of Connecticut’s agricultural production. Other important crops include apples, hay, dairy products, shellfish and tobacco. Emily Cole, the executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency Connecticut, told the Connecticut Examiner that such crops are harder to report for insurances purposes under the current system.

Improvements to the subsidized insurance program are among the things farmers like Hermonot want to see in the newest proposed farm bill.

"2024 is a time for the new farm bill,” Hermonot said.  “So right now, farmers are trying to talk to their politicians to help them tell them what really has worked for us and what hasn't worked and what we want in there."

While Hermonot remains cautiously optimistic about the future of farming in Connecticut, he acknowledges the challenges posed by larger corporate entities might be just as difficult as those posed by the weather.

"Walmart has decided to build a second massive milk plant in the country. The co-ops in this country are made up of small farms. Our co-op has around 7,000 farms, with a majority being small family farms," he said. "Walmart is increasingly interested in large-scale, cost-efficient operations."

Hermonot said he feels confident in getting help from local, state and federal leaders to lend the needed support to Connecticut’s farmers. 

"Across the board, Republican, Democrat, everyone's very supportive of farmers," he said.

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.
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