Sunday, October 5, 2008

Climate change threatens to raise the stakes for Iowa farms

Des Moines Register: The world already counts on Iowa to meet food production needs. A warmer world will count on Iowa even more. If the Earth heats up as climate forecasts suggest, agricultural production is likely to fall in many parts of the world, especially in poor countries near the equator and in Australia, a key producer of grain.

…Economists say that means Iowa and other Midwest states will be more important than ever to global food production. Climate forecasts show the Midwest receiving more rainfall even as average temperatures climb and levels of carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere. Certain types of plants, including soybeans, grow faster and larger when there is more carbon dioxide in the air.

…Under four different scenarios of climate change, which vary by projected temperature increases, yields in Iowa and the rest of the Corn Belt could increase anywhere from 5 percent to 19 percent by 2030. With adaptations by farmers, yields could rise by even more, 6 percent to 23 percent. That sounds like a lot, but Iowa State University economist Bruce Babcock says it's going to take yield increases on the order of 40 percent to 50 percent to meet the global demand for food and biofuels, and that's just to meet expected food demands over the next decade….

….Can Iowa step up? Yes, says Jerry Hatfield, an Agriculture Department plant scientist in Ames, who was the lead author of a recent government study of the impact of climate change on agriculture. "We're going to have to get much more efficient in the production, whether it's grain for food or grain for feed or grain for fuel. We're going to have to produce more per acre," he said.

…Adapting to climate change also will mean figuring out ways to combat expected increases in diseases and pests that are expected to flourish in the warmer, more moist conditions. In temperate climates such as Iowa's, scientists say global warming is likely to mean more flooding like the deluge this spring that devastated corn and soybean crops….

Hawkeye Point, the highest spot in Iowa, near Sibley. Shot by Brian M. Powell (user bmpowell on en.wikipedia), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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