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Climate change affecting farmers as some struggle, and some reap the benefits of warmer temperatures

Flats of pansies — a cool-weather-loving little gem of a flower that thrives here mainly in spring — are popping up in garden centers in the Northeast. It must be April. Think again.

Garden center managers, along with farmers, landscapers, and plants, are feeling and dealing with the creeping effects of extreme and erratic weather in Rhode Island. One effect, among many, is that autumn stays warmer much later into the year, allowing a second harvest of cool-weather crops between the end of summer and the start of winter. That includes starting a new pansy garden in September, something much more common in, say, the front yards of North Carolina.

For flower lovers, a sadder side of the coin is the increasing scarcity of summer of the blazing blue mophead hydrangeas. A warm spell in mid-winter prods the flower buds to pop out of their dormant state. When the warm days are followed by a quick reversal to cold temperatures, the buds are killed, resulting in no flowers the following summer. The climate of the upper South is coming our way in the future, and plants in our area are feeling it. Even Rhode Island chickens are dying from the heat on the trip from the farm to the processing facility. Rebecca Brown, chair of the department of plant science and entomology at the University of Rhode Island, said climate change is having two main effects in Rhode Island: on weather and plants and the businesses that depend on them.

The first is erratic changes in weather patterns, sometimes sending temperatures and precipitation way off the average, that place great stress on plants, sometimes killing them or at least stunting their growth. New England has always had variable weather, but the swings are getting much more extreme, Brown said. Dry times are drier; wet times are wetter; warm spells are warmer; cold snaps are colder.


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