The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture

Last year’s nationwide drought was the worst since 1956. According to the National Weather Service, last March was the warmest March on record  — nearly 9 degrees warmer than the average — and July was the hottest month on record with back-to-back days in the 90s. In 2011, it was much different — there was a record rainfall in Ohio, severe drought in the lower Midwest and an unusually mild winter.

Climate change is not new to Ohio farmers. But, what do these ever-evolving climate changes mean for farmers and the future of agriculture?

Climatologist consultant, Evelyn Browning-Garriss, says that with a proper understanding of the climate, farmers can plan ahead for the weather changes that are coming.

“The Gulf Stream and other tropical currents are flowing faster, which heat the North Atlantic,” says Browning-Garriss. “This warm phase should continue for 15 or 20 more years and can create hotter summers, more active hurricane seasons and colder winters in the Midwest, Great Lakes and eastern states. Rapid flows of the Gulf Stream can create a warmer Atlantic, which can then create heat waves and ‘flash droughts’ in the Midwest and Great Plains.”

While the weather may continue to be more challenging for U.S. agriculture in the coming years, Browning-Garriss says that Ohio is a comparative winner in general, with more moderate extremes than much of the country. Nonetheless, Ohio farmers should be prepared to maximize water resources and minimize heat stress for the next two decades.

So, how can Ohio farmers adjust their farming practices to an ever-changing climate?

A recent Ohio’s Country Journal article states that the use of no-till in combination with cover crops can play an increasingly important role in a warmer climate with more extreme heat waves and droughts.

“No-till and cover crops can reduce soil temperatures to soften temperature extremes,” says Jim Hoorman with The Ohio State University Extension in Putnam County. “In hot soil, bacteria can actually die. A hot dry summer can quickly reduce yields, but no-till and cover crop use can reduce soil temperatures and retain more water in soils.”

Farmers can also consider these additional climate change options:
  • More double-cropping opportunities with longer growing seasons
  • Planting more hybrid varieties to mitigate the risk of yield loss (for example, during a drought)
  • Relying more heavily on sound agronomics to buffer against challenging conditions
It will be interesting to see what the future holds in terms of our ever-changing climate and how we’ll need to adapt our farming practices accordingly.

What are your thoughts about our changing climate the past few years? Have you or are you planning to adapt your farming practices to adjust for climate changes?

Photo obtained from:

No comments: