Rising sea levels are impacting farming activities in the Carolinas. The Eastern states have hundreds of miles of coastal areas that are now covered in sea salt left behind by high tides. Many farmers have turned to the government for assistance with this climate change–driven issue. Others have chosen to adapt in their own manner.
Let’s examine the scope of the problem and how it will impact coastal farming regions around the United States in the future.
How Sea Salt is Getting Onto Farmlands
Sea salt primarily enters North and South Carolina’s farmlands when sea water washes over these areas during high tide. This water then recedes with the tide and leaves behind salty pools which evaporate. The end result is patches of sea salt left on top of arable land.
Farmers in the Carolinas have been dealing with this issue from time to time for over a century. However, the problem has accelerated and is becoming more intense due to climate change-driven sea level rise.
Climate change has also contributed to more extreme weather events such as storm surges that push seawater inland. Experts believe the regional sea level rise in the next thirty years will be equivalent to the increase witnessed over the past century.
What Problems is the Sea Salt Causing?
The sea salt’s presence in farmlands has caused numerous issues for farmers. The primary one is that high concentrations of soluble salts reduce the quantity of water available for plants. High salt concentrations can also be toxic for certain species of plants.
A quick glance at farmlands along the coast reveals patches of barren land where plants can no longer grow. “Ghost forests” are also becoming increasingly common in these areas. This refers to strands of trees that were killed by the intruding saltwater but have yet to fall over.
Many wetland species have also begun growing in places that were previously inhabited by cash crops such as corn, cotton, and soybeans. Climate Central predicts the Hyde County region could see up to 125,000 acres of farmland turn into coastal wetlands within the next thirty years.
How Farmers are Adapting to the Issue
Many of the farmers impacted by the sea salt issue have attempted to cope using aggressive land cultivation and water management practices. This includes employing numerous methods to keep invading wetland species off their land. However, other farmers have chosen to turn to the government for assistance.
These farmers have accepted that certain parts of their lands will inevitably become wetlands. Therefore, they have asked the federal government for payments in exchange for allowing these to turn into natural wetlands.
The United States Department of Agriculture runs many conservation easement programs to help farm owners in such situations. However, they have reported receiving a significantly larger number of applications from farmers in North Carolina. The organization fears it does not have the funding to be able to compensate all the farmers currently affected by the issue as well as those who will be impacted by it in the near future.
Sea Salt’s Economic Impact on North Carolina
The sea salt’s total economic impact is difficult to quantify. However, many farmers have reported that the cost of farming in the region has increased significantly. This is due to their increased investment in flood gates, pumps, and other water management systems required to project farmlands from invading saltwater.
Farmers have also expressed concerns that the government compensation they are being offered isn’t enough to compensate for their losses. The United States Department of Agriculture currently pays farmers between $100 and $200 per acre for easements depending on their soil type. This amount is far lower than the value of the crops grown on each acre, which may be up to $1,000 in some cases.
The Future of Farming in North and Carolina’s Coastal Regions
Coastal farmlands in North Carolina play a vital role in producing cash crops such as cotton, soybeans, corn, and wheat for the country. Rising sea levels will negatively impact the lives of farmers in the region as well as food supplies for the rest of America.
The United States government must provide a viable solution to help farmers protect their farmlands or offer adequate compensation that allows them to engage in alternative farming activities that benefit the nation’s food supply.