Climate Change Causes NJ Growing Season to Start Earlier

By Briana Vannozzi

The data is pretty clear. New Jersey’s climate is getting warmer. For farmers, that means growing season is starting earlier.

“It’s nice for starting to work some ground and getting some corn planted and peas planted and stuff like that. It’s nice, but it’s not nice,” said Nick Russo, owner of Russo’s Orchard Lane Farm.

New research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Arbor Day Foundation shows how climate change is affecting growing seasons across the country. Overall the nation is warmer. New Jersey moved down a hardiness zone from a 6 to a 7. Parts of southern New Jersey are now in zone 8. Zones are the standards growers use to determine what crops will thrive best in their area. The shift here means New Jersey is looking more like Maryland or Virginia.

“Growers in those parts of the state are seeing extended seasons, so the spring starts a little earlier — about two weeks — and they might get another two weeks on the back end,” said New Jersey Farm Bureau Research Associate Ed Wengryn.

As a fourth generation farmer, Russo explains, early crops are also at high risk with spring frost.

“You could have frost all the way up until May 17. You know, one year we had snow on sweet corn. And of course that wiped us out,” Russo said.

The research looked at hardiness zones since 1995. The zones are separated by 10 degrees Fahrenheit, which means this change happened in just the last two decades.

“For the most part, the slightly warming and changing in the hardiness zones is probably a good thing consumer wise and farmer wise,” Wengryn said.

Because those Jersey favorites — peaches, blueberries, even tomatoes — will hit the markets earlier.

“More important for farmers is how does the warmer temperatures impact the yields of things? So if we get super warm in the summer that lowers yields, that puts stress on livestock animals,” Wengryn said.

New Jersey’s Departments of Agriculture and Environmental Protection are allowing farmers to do controlled open burns or smudge pots this weekend to protect their crops from an expected frost.

“To create a blanket of smoke and disrupt air patterns to try and keep the freeze from taking a hold,” said Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher.

But as is always the case in farming, Fisher explains, nothing is a sure bet.

“It’s science but it’s also inexact in terms of what exactly will happen where. Every region is affected differently. You might have one farm is affected differently,” he said.

Fortunately, most farmers have a pretty optimistic disposition.

“I always said I was going to plant orange trees out here and get an early start,” Russo said.