Is the growing season getting longer?
ST. JOHN VALLEY -According to an international, NASA-funded study of the relationship between surface temperature and shifts in vegetative cover over a 30-year period, temperatures and vegetation from 45 degrees of latitude to the Arctic Ocean now resemble the conditions found 250 to 430 miles farther south 30 years ago.
Fort Kent, Maine is located at approximately 47 degrees of latitude and therefore is within this zone. Four to six degrees of latitude/ 250 to 430 miles south of Fort Kent is approximately the location of Portland, Maine.
According to the findings of researchers, the St. John Valley might therefore expect to see vegetation growth and temperatures similar to Portland's 30 years ago, but local farmers appear to disagree with the researchers' findings.
Whether the researchers' results simply fail to apply to the St. John Valley or whether weather extremes have created a situation in which those who might notice longer growing seasons or the ability to grow different crops successfully instead spend most of their attention on damage control is unclear.
One of the primary researchers, Ranga Myneni of Boston University's Department of Earth and Environment, said that the most striking changes that have occurred between 1982 and 2011 are occurring in the Arctic and in northern boreal areas. However, a map produced by NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio shows that northern Maine falls into a mix of areas which either had increases in plant growth or no changes in growth patterns. The map appears to show that some of the more significant changes in Maine itself have occurred in western Maine, although some seems to be present in parts of eastern Maine as well.
Researchers are extrapolating that by the end of this century, farthest northern latitudes may see shifts in vegetation equivalent to an approximate 1250-mile southern shift, although limitations in water and sunlight access, and summertime droughts, pest infestations and more frequent forest fires associated with the greenhouse effect, may restrict the real-world results predicted in these theoretical models.
Essentially, areas must become not only warmer but also wetter in order to see that predicted growth.
Local potato farmers George Pelletier of St. John and Gil Lajoie of Van Buren, local grain farmer Joey Bouchard of Fort Kent, and local vegetable gardeners Jim and Gerry Robinson of Fort Kent all say that they have noticed that the weather itself has become much more extreme and crop production more unpredictable, but none have noticed a lengthening of the growing season or a change in the types of crops that grow well.
Pelletier said, "One year it's wet, one year it's dry; it's changing for sure. We don't have the climate we used to."
But it terms of noticing a change in the length of the growing season, he said, "Not really, no."
Lajoie said, "I don't think the winters are as harsh as they used to be...there are more severe storms in the summer."
However, like Bouchard below, he felt that the averages have stayed about the same.
Bouchard said, "The highs and lows are more extreme. It's not as even as it used to be. The average has always been there, but the extremes are more noticeable."
About whether he and his wife have been able to plant different crops, Jim Robinson said, "It depends on the year. Gardening is never the same every year."
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