Vermont’s growing season grows; why it’s not all good news for farmers

Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 5:53 PM EST
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WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) - New research shows there are now more freeze-free days in Vermont. That’s welcome news to some farmers but concerning for others.

Snow on the ground isn’t stopping shoppers at Gardener’s Supply in Williston from stocking up for the spring.

“All of a sudden the temperatures get up to 50 or 60 and the plants come in sooner, so we need to be prepared sooner,” said the store’s Denyse Butler.

For 15 years, Butler has been interacting with farmers and green thumbs, helping them prep for the growing season, a season she has noticed is getting longer. “If the temperature is still warm, they are still needing to drink. So, you have to be paying attention to that,” Butler said.

She says some new plant varieties are also finding success, and our plant “zone,” or the types of plants that can weather Vermont’s climate, is getting wider. “In the past, when I first started here, it was like, absolutely not; those wouldn’t survive here. But now, more and more, they can acclimate,” Butler said.

According to Climate Central, since 1970 the growing season in Vermont has added 29 days. That’s almost an additional month of frost-and-freeze-free days for crops.

“It’s been, for the most part, gradual,” said Heather Darby, an agronomist with the UVM Extension. She says the change has been gradual, and Vermont is now able to support some winter grains, and some local tomatoes are lasting until Halloween. “We are seeing fresh vegetables longer than we used to, so those are great for farmers.”

But additional crops and more time to grow them also attract pests. Darby says additional bugs and plant diseases are finding Vermont more and more attractive. “Cause issues for us earlier in the season or diseases we normally wouldn’t have or insect pests we have now in many cases,” she said. Consistency is also a problem; bigger swings in temperatures and volatile weather are making farming challenging. “We’re on a roller coaster.” She says resilient soil is one way farmers are adapting to an accelerated changing climate.

Back at Gardner’s Supply, Butler says Vermont is still Vermont and you still need to be careful with what you drop in the ground, and when. “We want to say, ‘Hey, do you know what you have? Can I talk to you about it?’ So they know how to take care of it,” she explained.

The new data from Climate Central also points out that with a longer growing season, there is also a longer allergy season, something that, here in Vermont, is right around the corner.