Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Wildfire Smoke Concerns Farmers

Sunlight filtered by wildfire smoke can impact the growth of crops. Photo by Joe Phalon, 7/2023. 

The smoke from Canadian wildfires has Warren County farmers concerned. The already delicate balance between drought and localized downpours that have marked the 2023 growing season so far is complicated further by the unpredictable levels smoke in the atmosphere. 

“I think it’s slowing things down a bit,” said Frank Arena, who farms 36 acres in Columbia and is known for his popular farm stand on Route 94. 

The erratic weather patterns have added to the uncertainty, Arena said. 

“We get a lot of rain and then no rain,” he said. “The sun now isn’t too bad right now.”  

Short, intense downpours can drop significant measurable rain but much of that rain runs off because the ground can’t absorb that much in a short time, he said. 

Kent Kimball of Kimball’s Farm in Belvidere said he has been concerned about the smoke but hasn’t seen a significant affect so far, adding that any issues with the muted sunlight could become apparent later in the season. 

“You throw the sunlight into the mix, and that can make the difference,” Kimball said. 

In addition to the air quality, the integrity of the sunshine itself can affect crops, said Mark Jeschke, agronomy manager of seed producer Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc.

“There are three primary factors associated with wildfire smoke with the capability to directly impact crops—reduced total solar radiation and elevated ozone, which are both negative, and increased diffusion of solar radiation, which could potentially be positive,” Jeschke said in a blog post. He said sufficient sunlight is critical for maximizing plant photosynthesis and crop yield, and lower-than normal solar radiation during late-season plant development can be detrimental.

“Corn, in particular, is susceptible to reduced yields and reduced standability if the plants need to remobilize carbohydrates from the stalk to make up for a deficit in photosynthesis. This weakens the stalks and opens the door for stalk rot pathogens,” Jeschke said.

On the upside, while reflecting a portion of incoming light, smoke also scatters it, Jeschke said, making the light available to plants more diffuse. Wildfire smoke can significantly increase the diffuse fraction of Photosynthetically Active Radiation, which can actually benefit plants by increasing their light use efficiency.

But on the whole, no smoke is better, say experts and non-experts alike. 

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.