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Saltwater Intrusion, Result Of Rising Sea Levels, Harming Maryland Farmers

MARYLAND (WJZ) -- Maryland might be one of the first places to start seeing climate refugees in our lifetime. Rising sea levels are already starting to affect farmers in the state who say they're losing land.

When farmer John Swaine heads out to check on his crops, his biggest fear is that he'll see water where he should see soil.

"It seems like it's a little worse this year," he said.

READ MORE: 'This Is A Warning' | Rising Sea Levels Forced Fox Island Environmental Education Center To Close

With 1,200 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans, Swaine said water from a nearby creek only seldom used to creep up to his crops; now, it's almost daily.

"This spot probably will never come back," he said. "It's probably permanently like this."

It's called saltwater intrusion, and it happens when saltwater gets into the soil and stops crops from growing.

Farmers said the salt is toxic to their crops and is not just killing them but keeping them from germinating. Experts said it's because sea levels are rising faster and faster.

"Maybe 50 years ago you might lose a field but over a pretty slow period of time. Now we're losing that field over just a couple of years," said Kate Tully, an agro-ecologist with the University of Maryland.

And those acres add up. That's why the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center hosted a symposium for experts to discuss how to handle saltwater intrusion.

"We need to come up with ways to either mitigate, adapt or try to prevent this issue," said Mike Thielke with the center.

Whatever the solutions, they need to come quickly, Tully said.

"The pace of change is now within our own lifespan and maybe the span of within a decade," she said.

All of that leaves Swain wondering if it's already too late for his farm.

"If we have these weekly or daily, that's kind of beyond fixing at that point," he said.

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