The Atlantic

The Slow-Motion Catastrophe Threatening 350-Year-Old Farms

Sea-level rise might be causing salt to creep into the soil around America’s lower eastern shore.
Source: Kate Tully

On the lower eastern shore of Maryland, the stately Almodington plantation overlooks the Manokin River as it drains into the Chesapeake Bay. First surveyed in 1663, the expansive farm sits a few miles from Princess Anne, a town named for the daughter of King George II.

For 350 years, this region’s rich, sandy soils and warm, moist climate have been ideal for growing fruits and vegetable. Tomato production supported 300 canneries in the area at its peak in the early 1900s. Today, however, Somerset County is the country’s sixth-largest poultry producer. The county’s roughly 60 row-crop farmers now grow corn and soybeans for chicken feed.

While the farms have adapted to meet shifting demand, it is the unseen changes happening underfoot that may have a long-lasting impact. In the fields beyond the picturesque manor, six-foot-tall salt-tolerant weeds thrive. Nearby, a decaying corn cob lies in bare, bleached soil pocked with patches of blue-green algae. Last year’s dismal corn yield was this field’s last: The leasing farmer abandoned a 30-acre parcel. It’s amazing corn plants grew at all. “The soil salt content is six to seven parts per thousand. Corn, typically, won’t grow once salt is more than 0.8 parts per thousand,” says Keryn Gedan, a wetland ecologist.

On a windy, overcast October day, Gedan,

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