Monday, February 11, 2013

Climate change promises tough future for US farmers

Alex Kirby in Responding to Climate Change:  Climate change may force American farmers to alter where they grow crops and to spend millions of dollars more tackling weeds, pests and diseases, a report says. It urges them to consider this as a risk they may have to manage.

The report, by the US Agriculture Department, says American farmers have managed to adapt to environmental changes for nearly 150 years. But the accelerating pace and intensity of global warming in the next few decades might soon overwhelm it.

“We’re going to end up in a situation where we have a multitude of things happening that are going to negatively impact crop production,” said Jerry Hatfield, a plant physiologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and lead author of the study. “In fact, we saw this in 2012 with the drought.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says 2012 was the hottest year in the US since record-keeping began in 1895, overtaking the previous record by 1°F (-17.2°C). The country suffered its worst drought in over 50 years.

The report’s authors say US cropland agriculture will resist climate change fairly well during the next 25 years. Farmers will be able to minimize the impact of warming by changing their timetables and using crop varieties more resilient to drought, disease and heat. More use of irrigation and moving production to regions with a more clement temperature will also help.

But by mid-century adaptation becomes more difficult and expensive as crops and livestock need to become ever more adaptable, something which will leave their productivity increasingly unpredictable. Temperature increases and more extreme swings in precipitation could cause yields of major crops to fall....

A wheat field on the Palouse, in Idaho, US Department of Agriculture

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