08/06/2012 03:04 pm ET Updated Oct 06, 2012

Heat, Climate Change And The Drought

I'm a vegetable farmer who's been at it 20 years. I've not had another job in that time so I need to make the farm pay.

These days, everyone's talking about the drought and how hot it is. For sure it's a one in 50 to 100 years in terms of heat, and a one in 25 to 50 years in terms of drought, but really, it's not so earth shattering in the big picture.

We have an almost entitled view with respect to weather, or a particular set of weather conditions, or the weather our parents experienced. We also know that climate has changed, from the ice ages to far hotter than earth's current temperatures, but seem to act as though we'll never live that long and that it should always be as good as it has been, lately.

We're coming out of an ice age, and glaciers have been steadily melting and retreating in the northern hemisphere for the last 10,000 years. In all the ways we have, via science, to see temperature records over this time and earlier times, we know that human activity is accelerating and exacerbating the natural warming that was already happening.

Yeah, it's hot, and it's hard to grow crops in hot weather. Everyone seems to think the hotter the better, but above 85 or 90 degrees F, most plants shut down and don't grow at all. Many plants change their life cycles in ways that make them unmarketable from a food standpoint with prolonged exposure to heat. Lettuce and cool loving greens stop making leaves and instead go to seed (reproduce). Even warm loving crops will drop flowers during prolonged periods with days in the 90s, and/or nights in the 70s. No flowers, no fruit. We're seeing that on our tomatoes everywhere now as we had a stretch with many 90s and 100s a few weeks ago, and most of the flowers that would normally have pollinated during that time were simply dropped by the plant.

Lots of things have been hard, but the reality is that in my upper Midwest climate, I've kind of got it made with respect to water, climate and soil. We have here a moderate enough climate with good enough water availability and great soils that we should be able to do quite well for centuries before we need to move north to escape heat.

These hot spells and conditions will separate the real, hard core farmers, from the rest. Most small vegetable producers have other jobs, or their spouses do, that support the farming operation, financially. Far fewer farmers support themselves with only farm work/income. They are generally better farmers as they need to make it happen and that lends itself to more effort, learning and self reliance.

Growing a wide variety of crops and planting 15 times/year, spring through fall, ensures good vegetable farmers a good variety of crops year round. Yes, we lost 5 or 6 whole crops this year. But we planted hundreds of varieties of 50 vegetables and herbs, so we'll still got hundreds of varieties of 44 vegetables and herbs that did work out. Some of what survived suffered and wasn't as good, but some stuff has done great too.