Changing climate changing agriculture

By Susan Harlow
Editor, Eastern DairyBusiness 

There will be winners and losers among regions from the effects of global climate change, according to a new report released June 16 by the  U.S. Global Change Research Program.
Changing temperatures, precipitation patterns and levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will all impact agriculture. U.S. temperatures will rise 1.5 degreees in 50 years, but they will rise more in the Midwest in winter – about 7 degrees, said the report.  Northern latitudes will receive more precipitation; the southern latitudes, less.
The Midwest and Northeast will see heavier precipitation, including more downpours. But the Southwest and InterMountain West will suffer more drought. The West will be hit particularly hard by lack of water – by 2050, the Colorado River won’t meet the demand for its water 90% of the time.
The effect of climate change on the western Corn Belt is hard to predict, since it sits between an increasingly wetter East and increasingly drier West, said William Hohenstein, director of USDA’s Global Change Program Office.
Milk production in confined dairy operations will decline as higher temperatures cause heat stress, especially at night.  The option for producers: modify facilities, the report said.
More rain, heat and CO2 will boost the number of pests and invasive weeds that move north, such as kudzu. They’ll increase yields of some crops, but not all. Yields of corn, beans wheat and rice will drop. Grain, soybean and canola will be especially susceptible to higher nightime temperatures.
To adapt, farmers may change planting dates or switch varieites, the report said.
More heavy downpours will delay spring planting, kill more crops as fields flood and increase soil compaction. Wet conditions at harvest can cut yields.
Forage quality will decline as CO2 levels climb.
The changes are not a matter of if, but when, the authors said. “Human-induced climate change is a reality and is underway,” said Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and Undersecretary of Commerce.