Rising Salt Water Claiming America’s Coastal Farms

Salty soil is a death sentence for crops, and for areas of coastal farmland, an increasing threat due to climate change. Known as saltwater intrusion, this occurs when storm surges or high tides overtop areas low in elevation. It also occurs when saltwater infiltrates freshwater aquifers and raises the groundwater table below the soil surface.

Due to its low elevation, land along much of the Northeast seaboard is especially at risk from saltwater intrusion. As the Baltimore Sun editorial board wrote, salt is posing a serious risk to Eastern Shore farms as even crops that have some tolerance for salinity are being impacted.

Why This Matters: Destruction of farmlands by saltwater intrusion claims the livelihood of farmers and farmworkers and impacts food supply. But, as The Sun’s board noted, it’s also the canary in the coal mine. It’s yet another “manifestation of how global warming is threatening human existence. But it’s an instructive one because, like many of the ill effects of rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, the change starts gradually, accelerates and ultimately proves irrevocable.”

Lack of Action: American farmland is vulnerable to the threats of climate change which is already a daily reality. As the American Farmland Trust explained, extreme weather events threaten crop productivity, stress water supplies, and increase wildfire risks, while more frequent and intense storms in other areas wash away the soil and increase flooding. The 2018 National Climate Assessment had a dire warning for the state of American farmlands if climate change continues unabated, highlighting the fact that farming is an important source of jobs for rural communities.

On the whole, rural districts tend to be represented by Republicans in Congress and a staggering majority of those lawmakers fail to take the threat of climate change seriously.

As The Sun’s editorial board wrote,

Over and over again, climate deniers have found excuses for inaction — or to make matters worse which is what happens when you pursue an energy strategy that encourages fossil fuel production or authorizes coal-fired power plants or generally sneers at green energy and technology as socialism and government run amok. Rep. Andy Harris, the conservative Republican congressman who represents the Eastern Shore including those farmers facing ruin, is among the deniers having a lifetime environmental score from the League of Conservation Voters of just 3%.

It’s imperative that any lawmaker vowing to care about the plight of farmers answer questions about his or her plan to address climate change. Especially because regenerative farming practices can serve as an important tool to fight climate change but need continued funding to bring more farmers into the fold.

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