Climate change forces Midwest farmers to adapt

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storm clouds and farm

Recently, I presented at a conference for science educators in Ohio. As I prepared for the conference, I solely focused on ways that I could impact and enlighten the educators in attendance.

I neglected to anticipate the influence the phenomenal educators in attendance would have on me. I found myself exposed to a world of eye-opening concepts, ideas and societal adaptations, influenced by the changing world around us.

In the spring of 2017, many producers in our area were weighing the pros and cons of replanting in June. This was due to 5.5 inches of rain in both March and April, and 7.5 inches of precipitation in May.

False spring

The average temperatures in these months were 10-20 degrees higher than average temperatures and created a false spring in March. Late plantings led to a late harvest. Many producers who regularly plant cover crops planted after the NRCS deadline, or not at all.

Although this may seem like an isolated incident, it is a model of future conditions. An increase in climate-related disruptions have occurred within the past 40 years and are projected to continually increase throughout the next 25 years.

Data from the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences + Assessments (GLISA) and the National Climate Assessment suggest these changes will negatively impact Ohio crops and livestock throughout the middle of the century.

What are the issues?

Here are some issues that producers should be cognizant of:

Changes in precipitation. Temperatures and precipitation are likely to increase resulting in a reduction of days with favorable planting conditions.

With increased precipitation during the spring and fall, projections show a decrease in summer precipitation leading to increased droughts.

Impaired water quality. Strong storms, flash floods, and increased precipitation could elevate the effects of rainfall on semi-frozen, frozen, or drought-ridden ground. This will give rise to increased runoff and erosion, flooding in streams and ditches, contaminated water supplies, and challenges for irrigated agriculture.

Innovative conservation practices will need to be implemented to combat these challenges.

Crop and livestock. The growing season has increased by 26 days since the 1950s. Although this seems like a positive aspect, it may be quickly negated by increased heat stress, drought, weeds, diseases, insect pests and pathogens.

Current species may not be able to adapt to climate changes and producers may be forced to explore additional crops. We are in a time when it is necessary to explore future options. In an effort to become resilient to risks posed by the environment, it is best to explore hazards, assess vulnerability and risks, investigate options, prioritize and plan, and take action.

“The time is now, the place is here. Stay in the present. You can do nothing to change the past, and the future will never come exactly as you plan or hope for.”

— Dan Millman

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