What Climate Change May Mean To Coastal Farms

By Christy George (OPB)
Denmark, OR Sept. 9, 2009 4:14 p.m.

There's a climate change bill pending in Congress, and a climate treaty summit coming up this winter in Copenhagen, Denmark.

To understand how climate change is likely to affect Oregon, Christy George is profiling the tiny south coast town of Denmark.


We wanted to know what scientists think could happen later this century to coastal salmon. And we wondered how climate change may alter life for two families who've been farming the same land in Denmark, Oregon for more than a hundred years.

Bonnie Cox: "People have lived here, people have died here, people have been married here and people have been born here"


Bonnie Cox is a third-generation Jensen. Her grandfather emigrated to Oregon from Denmark in Europe.

Bonnie's father, Charlie Jensen, brought his bride Wilma to Denmark, Oregon in 1943.

Wilma Jensen: "Oh, it was pretty bustling when we moved here, I thought. Nice little grocery store, and the post office. "

Judy Snyder: "We'd actually ride our old horse over there to get groceries."

Judy Jensen Snyder was one of seven children, along with Wilbur, Merrie Jo, Bonnie, Jennie, Peggy, and John.

The Jensens grew blueberries and hay and raised dairy cows.

Wilma Jensen: "I never milked. Charlie said he didn't let his mother or his sisters, so he certainly wasn't going to let me. I had enough work to do with the children."

Charlie is gone now, but Wilma is still going strong. She'll be 94 in two weeks.

Wilma Jensen: "It was a wonderful place to raise our family. They all learned independence and that's so important. You have to answer for yourself."

Charlie Jensen's second job was teaching music – at school and at home.  The stars of the Jensen family band were Judy --

Judy Snyder: "Sax and clarinet."

and Wilbur.

The Jensen Family gathered around the piano on Christmas Eve 2004.

Wilbur Jensen: "Just trumpet. I'm a one instrument guy."

But they weren't just a country band playing the grange hall.

Wilbur performed twice with the Chicago Symphony, starting when he was 15, and he played horn with the man he'd learned to imitate, Louis Armstrong.

Wilbur Jensen: "I pulled out an immense white handkerchief, which was sort of part of his persona and I wiped my face all off and my horn and we played Struttin' With Some BBQ."

Denmark, Oregon sits on a narrow strip of land between the ocean and the mountains. So the land is hilly, and the forest begins just above Highway 101 – not farm-ready, says Bonnie Cox.

Bonnie Cox: "My dad had a friend visiting once and he looked out the window and said Gee, Charlie you're really lucky to have found land with all these cleared fields like that. It wasn't like this at all when Dad came here."

Wilbur Jensen: "It was all timber."

Bonnie Cox: "My dad had a two-horse team, so it was pretty difficult clearing the land with just horsepower – and dynamite. Oh yes, my dad was a connoisseur of dynamite."

Wilbur Jensen: "This is really tree country here."

Peggy Christensen: "I remember the change happening when I was about five. Because dad still milked the cows."

That's Peggy Jensen Christensen.

Peggy Christensen: "You would see logging trucks on the road constantly – one log would be the whole load, they were huge! You don't see logs like they used to have."

Change is natural. Nothing any of us can do to stop it.

But the unnatural changes happening to our climate could transform places like Denmark, Oregon over the next century – or even sooner.

Climate change is predicted to bring weather that's warmer, wetter, more variable and with greater extremes.

Scientists like forest physiologist Barbara Bond are trying to understand how a warming climate will affect Oregon's forests.

If less snow falls in the mountains and spring comes early, what happens to animals and the plants they depend on?

Barbara Bond: "Birds, for example, especially migratory birds. If they are out of sync with local plants and when those local plants leaf out, what's the impact of that? Do the birds just go somewhere else? Or do they not have a food source? Or do they die out? And those are actually unanswered questions right now."

She works at Oregon State's experimental forest in the Cascades, but says the principles stay the same for Denmark, Oregon.

Barbara Bond: "When you get to complicated systems, like the ecological responses to climate, there's going to be nuances wherever you go, so you can take your basic principles from one place to another, but in the case of the coast, proximity to the ocean is going to create differences."

Bond and other climate scientists rely on computer models of how the forest, the mountains, the rivers and the ocean interact.

Andreas Schmittner: "So this is the computer I'm using."

Andreas Schmittner is a climate modeler at Oregon State University. He's studying the connection between carbon dioxide and climate change – which triggers the other.

Andreas Schmittner: "From the observations alone, we cannot really  understand why climate has changed so we need some kind of mathematical model to put those observation into the context of the theory."

Scientists like Schmittner test their models against records from the past – things like tree rings and ice cores.

He runs his models backwards to see if they can accurately project what actually happened in the past. If they get it right, the models can be trusted to predict the future.

Right now, Schmittner is modeling what would happen if people continue to burn all the available fossil fuels on the planet.

Andreas Schmittner: "In this case, my model predicts a very strong warming of about up to seven degrees on the global average."

Seven degrees Celsius is 12 degrees Fahrenheit.

Andreas Schmittner: "So this would be catastrophic climate change."

But if people burn less fossil fuel, the models predict less warming.

John Jensen: "It's another late year. "

 Charlie and John Jensen inspect their blueberry bushes

John Jensen, his wife Nancy and their son Charlie run the family's U-pick ‘em blueberry business now.

John Jensen: "Last year was one of our worst years for any kind of fruit, and this year's better but they're slow to ripen. Just like this, overcast. We need those warm. bright days for them to get nice and blue."

John's grandfather planted the blueberry bushes back in the 1930's, but these days, the berries are certified organic.

John Jensen: "This isn't efficient, but people love it. They've been coming here since I was a kid, some of the same families year after year."

Greg Jones: "Climate really is the basis for all agriculture of all forms whether berries or broad field crops."

Climatologist Greg Jones teaches at Southern Oregon University. And he's become an expert in the impact of climate change on wine grapes and all kinds of berries.

Greg Jones: "From a temperature standpoint we're clearly in a place today that is fairly dramatically warmer than what it was 100 years ago. We're talking on the order of 1 to 3 degrees F, depending on where you are."

Cream Cheese Blueberry Pie

3 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whipping cream
9 inch baked pie crust
Have cream cheese at room temperature.  Cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla together.  Whip cream and fold in carefully.  :Pour into prepared crust, spread.  Cover with cooled topping, chill well.
Blueberry Topping
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
Dash of salt
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 Tablespoon juice.
Heat over low heat the sugar, cornstarch, salt and water, stirring constantly until thickened.  Stir in the blueberries and lemon juice.  Boil for one minute.  Remove from heat and cool completely, spread on cream cheese pie.

- the Jensen Century Farm family

Jones says as the planet continues to warm, farmers may have to change where they grow their berries and even which varieties they grow. But, he says, over the past century, the Jensens have already proven they're resilient.

Greg Jones: "Will there be some changes? Yes. Will they be severe enough to cause the Jensens to go out of business? I would say no at this point, that's my gut feeling. What they need to do is be like the prior generations, being aware of what their operating in, what climate gives them and adjusting and adapting accordingly to that opportunity."

That's why the Jensens started growing cranberries in the 1990's.

Charlie Jensen: "And I have very vague memories of being there when they were completing that very last bog."

Fifteen year-old Charlie is a fourth generation Jensen.

Charlie Jensen: "I plan to keep the farm as a whole."

He sees cranberries as part of the farm's future.

Charlie Jensen: "Cranberries are probably easier to farm, in general and blueberries are probably way better to eat. Cranberries raw are really tart!"

 Wilma Jensen

Greg Jones: "The idea that they planted, this family, the Jensen family, planted blueberries in one place, and cranberries in another, is that they were paying attention to their environment."

In 2002, the Jensens were officially designated century farmers.

Wilma Jensen: "We were honored at a little thing at the Curry County Fair, the Kreutzers and our family, and were presented plaques."

Lloyd Kreutzer: "Always visited with Charlie and Wilma – they're nice people."

Century farmer Lloyd Kreutzer lives just down the road from the Jensens. In fact, he's lived there his whole life.

Lloyd Kreutzer: "I was born with a twin brother. We're all still going – 82 years plus."

His grandfather emigrated from Switzerland in the late 18th Century and settled in Denmark, Oregon to raise sheep and dairy cows.

In 1915, he built a cheese factory on his property. Back then, Denmark was cheese country, with factories stretching up and down the coast from Bandon almost to California.

 Lloyd and Geraldine Kreutzer

When Lloyd Kreutzer married Geraldine and they started having kids, he bought a logging truck, and started a second career.

Lloyd Kreutzer: "That's a job I learned what 40 hour days were like – lots of times you worked 40 hours a day before you went to bed."

He sold his last big rig and came back to the ranch fulltime in 1963.

Lloyd Kreutzer: "We were running 500 ewes and about oh, 40-50 feeder calves on thru to about 18 months old. A lot of the time we'd take Sunday afternoon off for awhile, but you know cows eat twice a day 24/7."

The cheese factories are all gone now. So are the sheep and the dairy cows, but Lloyd Kreutzer is still ranching - beef cattle now.

Lloyd Kreutzer: "The price of cattle is down about a dime from what it was last year. So yeah, we're just kind of hanging on here."

Pineapple Frosting

This recipe can also be used as pudding, or as pie filling.

Largest size can of crushed pineapple
Large package instant vanilla pudding
8 oz container of  Cool Whip

Mix pineapple in bowl with vanilla pudding. Stir in Kool Whip, and add more if necessary.

- the Kreutzer Century farm family

We took a ride in his 1951 International truck to see where he's clearing more land for pasture.

Lloyd Kreutzer: "See those trees? That's what we're taking down."

Over the next century, new trees may move in here  – like myrtlewood, arbutus and live oaks, says University of Oregon scientist Greg Retallack.

Greg Retallack: "We now have quite fabulous records back for the past 300 million years or so."

Greg Retallack studies ancient soil and plants fossilized in it.

He's worked at Cape Blanco, just south of Denmark, studying dirt from 18 million years ago, when the Earth was warmer – about the same climate predicted for 2100.

Greg Retallack: "The fossil flora we found at Cape Blanco is most like the flora of Chico, California. What's going to happen to Denmark is it's going to get 'Californicated'. That flora is going to move north across the border, and with it also a more intense Mediterranean climate – and that means hardly any rain in the summer."

Lloyd Kreutzer: "There've been a lot of changes, but these are those poplars that aren't doing real good. They're better along the crick where the wind don't hit ‘em as hard."

Deeper into the forest, we come up on six heifers and a bull.

Lloyd Kreutzer: "They're nice gentle calves. I thought that bull was pretty gentle but I'll show you that truck. I backed him up the bank to get him out of the tailgate and he jumped over the sideboard. I couldn't believe it."

Cattle and sheep are quite adaptable, says Greg Retallack - but not soil.

Greg Retallack: "Finding the forage for them might be difficult as the soils get more impoverished and they will get more impoverished if it gets warmer and wetter both. It'll be difficult to grow."

This year, Lloyd Kreutzer wrote down his life story.

Lloyd Kreutzer: "Looks like I milked cows 28 years, drove Class A trucks for 28 years nearly three million miles.  If I don't retire and keep working, I may see 90. That's my story, Amen. Lloyd Kreutzer. Feb the 25th 2009."

Wilma Jensen: "The children thought I should quit driving, which is right, but you feel more hemmed in, you know."

Wilma Jensen is taking stock, too.

Wilma Jensen: "But they're all really good to look after me, and someone's here every day. and I sure appreciate that because I'd like to stay here as long as I'm capable. Anyway, it's a good life."

When we come back -- the future of salmon in Denmark.