There is nothing that can protect farmers along the Gulf Coast, Atlantic Coast, and in the Caribbean from hurricanes such as Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Reports suggest that farms in Florida are struggling from huge setbacks because of Irma, and they are in our thoughts. The people of Puerto Rico are struggling even more. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico,” one farmer told The New York Times. “And there won’t be for a year or longer.”
All of those impacted by these storms are in our thoughts.
Again, there is nothing that can protect farmers from winds and rains as strong and prolonged as those brought by recent hurricanes. Farmers elsewhere in the country are blessed to have a buffer of sorts, being inland, but they must still prepare for a future that increasingly looks like it will be filled with heavy rains.
Climate researchers at Michigan State University have examined the increasing occurrences of “five-year” rains, or 24-hour deluges that are expected to occur only once every five years. The number of these storms has increased, on average, 4 percent every decade for the past 110 years. We say “average” because the results have been severely skewed by a huge jump in “extreme” precipitation over the last 20 years.
There is nothing you can do to change the weather. There is something you can do to prepare your farmland for the weather that will come, however. Building drainage channels is the best method, but the manner in which you design is almost as important.
There are two primary styles in which most drainage channels are designed: Concentrated profile and Dispersed profile.
If you were standing in a concentrated drainage channel and looking straight ahead, you would see very steep sides, and it would take more effort to climb out. A dispersed profile would look more natural, as if the hills were gently sloping into the channel. More importantly, the gradual, dispersed profile will perform much better for you than the more sharp, concentrated approach.
Concentrated profiles are bad for erosion to begin with. The steeper, “cliff”-like walls are more likely to crumble than the grassy slopes of a dispersed profile. Consider what happens when you add an increased number of intense storms to the equation. The flowing water eats away at the walls of the concentrated profile of the drainage channel, causing the land above to collapse inward. This both clogs your drainage channels and takes away from the land you can use for actual farming.
Again, the gentle slopes of channels with dispersed profiles protects you from erosion.
One of the hot topics in the wake of these storms has been flood insurance for those who live near the coast, and will have to deal with increasing rain levels in years to come. Farmers and those in agriculture should also be taking steps to “insure” themselves against weather changes.
Make sure that your drainage systems are equipped for the next big storm.