46 Does farming organically reduce climate vulnerability?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011
Salon B (Asheville Renaissance)
Carrie A. Furman, University of Georgia / Southeast Climate Consortium, Griffin, GA; and M. Boudreau, C. Roncoli, and G. Hoogenboom

Research on the impact and use of climate information to manage risk among farmers has historically ignored small-scale organic growers, but they provide a unique situation in which to understand vulnerability and response to atmospheric conditions. On the surface farmers that use organic practices appear highly vulnerable to risks due to their small customer base, limited formal economic support, and mix of regional climatic and resource constraints that limit production size. This, however, does not appear to be the case because the values of and practices employed by many sustainable agriculturalists in Georgia increases their adaptability to climate and weather extremes and helps them manage risks.

This poster reports on research conducted among organic farmers in Georgia to ascertain to what extent they use climate-based information and how they manage risk. The research design combines quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitative data was collected through an online survey, completed by 40 respondents. Qualitative data yielded rich contextual information and was gathered through semi-structured interviews with 31 participants and participant observation at farmers' markets, local farms, and at farmers' conferences and workshops. Research questions focused on participants' agricultural management systems, how they perceive climate change, and their knowledge, use, perceptions, and attitudes toward weather and climate predictions. We present examples from tomato production (a vital crop of organic growers) to illustrate the unique nature of decision-making among small organic producers in response to weather and climate information.

Information is available at a wide range of spatial and temporal scales, which must be considered by farmers if appropriate decisions are to be made. Farmers in this research see this range as a continuum, for example their ability to adapt to short-term events they reported increases their likelihood of adapting to long-term change. When understanding weather and climate vulnerability, it is useful to divide the range into three scales: Weather, climate variability, and climate change. At the scale of weather, which is geographically localized and encompasses time periods of only a few days, organic farmers are very observant and make daily decisions much like conventional farmers regarding such practices as planting, irrigation, and frost protection. In some cases they are more vulnerable (untreated seed) but in others more resilient (small-scale production and diverse crops) to impacts from weather than conventional growers. In contrast, climate variability, which concerns larger areas and time periods of months (e.g. the ENSO phenomenon), does not influence organic farmers' decisions. However, research in Georgia suggests that their adaptability to climate variability is embedded in production and marketing strategies that are driven by their environmental ethic, social values, and social networks. Finally, climate change, which is a global phenomenon occurring over decades, is a serious concern for small organic producers interviewed and a component of the environmental ethic that motivates their behavior. Adaptation and mitigation capacities are potentially high and implicit in production philosophy. These findings bring a new dimension to our understandings of risk management by illustrating the role that value-based attitudes play in short- and long-term climate adaptation and mitigation.

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner