Purple flowers across many fields in Kentucky and Indiana are more than flowering weeds. An agriculture extension agent says those purple blooms are a sign of climate change and the increasingly unpredictable weather that farmers have to deal with.
Jon Neufelder is an educator with the Purdue University Extension Office in Posey County, Indiana. He said the flowers are purple deadnettle and henbit and they’re a sign of a warm winter and an early spring.
“We have them every year, but this year because of the warm February, they started flowering a lot earlier. So we’re seeing them a lot earlier. Usually we don’t see them until around April and by then the farmers have pretty well killed them off because they’ve started spraying for production.”
Neufelder said the warm winter has caused overall growth to be about two weeks ahead of schedule.
That could affect the wheat crop because it can come out of the dormant stage early and then become susceptible to a freeze.
Neufelder said the warm winter and early blooms show that climate change is already having an impact on farming in the region.
"I think the research and the science is real, that there is climate change and we’re experiencing it with these extremes in weather. I thinks the facts are that we’re getting earlier and earlier in our planting season and our growing season is expanding. We've got a longer window from spring 'til even late in the fall. Crops don't get frozen out nearly as early they used to 20 or 30 years ago."
Farmers have always had to deal with unpredictable weather, but Neufelder said there have been more extremes in recent years.
"We don't have what we consider a normal year anymore. It's either a late year or an early year, or a too wet year or a too dry year. We just don't seem to just get what we consider average conditions."
Neufelder says the extremes in recent years, like early season tornadoes, heavy rains during planting or growing season, and summer droughts are additional challenges for agriculture.