USDA awards $149,000 to climate change adaptation fellowship program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NE-SARE) program has awarded $149,000 to the University of Maine School of Food and Agriculture. The award will support a yearlong fellowship program for agricultural advisers and farmers working in vegetable and small fruit industries to adapt to challenges related to climate change.

The vegetable and small fruit growers module is one of four modules that make up the Climate Adaptation Fellowship (CAF) program, which also includes modules geared toward dairy producers, tree fruit producers and foresters.

The project is led by Rachel Schattman, an assistant professor of sustainable agriculture and an associate with the Climate Change Institute at UMaine. Co-principal investigators on the award are Erin Lane of the USDA Northeast Climate Hub and Marjorie Kaplan of the Rutgers University Climate Institute.

Climate change will lead to many challenges for vegetable and small fruit growers in the northeastern United States in the near future, including extreme rainfall, floods, droughts, and increasing pest problems.

For farmers to minimize risk to themselves and their businesses, adaptive management measures are necessary. Farmers must improve their knowledge of climate change adaptation practices relevant to their specific geographic settings and business models. These practices include growing crops better suited to new conditions, using different insurance, and exploring new business ownership structures and revenue sources, such as agrotourism or consulting.

“Farmers are already seeing the effects of climate change,” says Schattman. “In coming decades, it will become increasingly important that both commercial growers and those that advise them are equipped to assess and adapt to climate-related risks. Successful adaptation will be different for every farm, and this program will help participants take an individualized approach.”

Participants in the CAF program will enhance their knowledge of climate change, experiment with or evaluate adaptation management practices, and encourage other farmers to explore farm-specific climate change adaptation measures through a peer-to-peer curriculum.

Thirty fellows will be selected to work in pairs to develop 15 individual, personalized farm adaptation plans, as well as outreach projects such as newsletters, blog posts, fact sheets, or presentations. Some fellows also will integrate information about climate change adaptation into new or ongoing programming.

UMaine is collaborating with the USDA Northeast Climate Hub, Rutgers University, the University of Vermont, and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) on the program. The curriculum, completed in 2019, is the result of a multiyear collaboration between multiple land grant universities, USDA agencies, nonprofit organizations and land managers. This work is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program under subaward number #ENE20-164-34268.

To apply to the Climate Adaptation Fellowship program or to find out more, visit