Climate change: Cotton crop may be possible in Ohio


CARROLLTON, Ohio — Forget the political hype and controversy: Global climate change is happening, and it’s going to change the way you farm.

So says an Ohio State University Extension specialist, who predicts cotton will become a viable crop in southern Ohio by 2050, and that the warmer climate will change production methods and crops worldwide.

The big picture

Over the past billion years — Earth is 4 billion years old — the planet has been warmer than it is today, according to Tom Blaine, an Ohio State University Extension community development specialist.

“It’s typically been very warm. You can imagine the dinosaurs running around — in pictures you typically see they’re in tropical environments. That was pretty much conditions around the earth,” he said.

But thanks to the shifting of the continents and the role they play in blocking warm water from reaching the North and South Poles, Earth is cooling.

For instance, the drifting of North America and Eurasia that opened up the Northwest Passage caused the Arctic Ocean to freeze, Blaine explained.

The northern ice block and the one surrounding Antarctica at the South Pole led to cold fronts and an overall global cooling.

Average temperature today is 50 degrees worldwide, Blaine said.

In fact, Blaine says many researchers have studied climate ups and downs over the past millions of years, and say we’re headed toward the next ice age in the next 1,000 years.

“It’s easy to be misled. A lot of times people say ‘Global warming is no big deal. We’ve been much warmer in the past.’

“It’s true. Earth has been much warmer in the past. But [humans] weren’t around then.”

A blip on the radar

Our lifetimes, however, are a blip of global warming inside the cooling trend. Earth is heating up, Blaine said.

Northern Ohio, he said, was once under a sheet of ice 8,000 feet thick. Southern Ohio was an arctic tundra, a place with lots of snow and ice and virtually no trees.

The warming and cooling is a fact of life. At least in the scheme of Mother Earth’s life, Blaine said, thanks to the planet’s tilt and orbit path around the sun, which are major influences on global temperatures.

Not all warming can be blamed on humans, automobile emissions, methane from cows, and coal-burning power plants, but those do factor into the warming, Blaine said.

“The global warming trend is definitely affected by humans. We’ve seen emissions double in the past 50 years alone,” he said.

Industry effect. Blaine said if warming trends seen by studying tree rings and ice cores hold true, Earth in 2050 will be an average 1 degree warmer than it is now.

It doesn’t sound like much, but that means the polar ice caps will continue to melt, pushing sea levels up 6 inches worldwide. Researchers predict by 2040, much of the Arctic Ocean will be navigable, he said.

“Think of the impacts [warming] will have on beaches, tourism, skiing, maritime. It’s boggling.”

Farm futures

Ohio agriculture will be affected, too.

Blaine said winters will likely continue to become milder, which may help farmers, but we’ll be hit with additional rain in the winter, spring and fall.

Summers will be more prone to drought, and might require irrigation in this area in the coming decades, Blaine said.

He also said growing zones will continue to push northward, bringing the opportunity for farmers in this area to switch from 110-day to 120-day corn, and will also introduce the opportunity for new crops like cotton.

“Climate matters, and it matters for agriculture,” Blaine said.

“Many of us won’t live to see real dramatic change, but our children and grandchildren will. It’s going to be a different world in many ways in 50, 75, 80 years.”


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