Food Security Challenges - 3
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor
Mon Oct 5, 2015 11:17 AM CDT
(Page 1 of 3)

OMAHA (DTN) -- It was a wet, ugly spring in parts of the Midwest this year. Nearly 40% of Missouri's expected soybean acres were still unplanted at the end of June because of the wettest stretch of May and June rains they've seen in 20 years that wrecked planting season across the northern half of the state.

Jerry Hatfield, Midwest Climate Hub leader, said highly variable precipitation is creating multiple management problems for farmers. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer picture by Bob Elbert)

Illinois farmers saw the wettest June on record that began drowning out their corn as rainfall averaged 9.53 inches statewide, more than 5 inches above the norm. June appears to be getting wetter in Illinois. While 2015 broke a record set in 1902, four of the 10 wettest June totals across the state have come in the last six years.

In Indiana, the rains and flooding in June may have caused as much as $450 million in early crop damage, according to a Purdue University economist.

The growing season in the Midwest is about nine days longer than it was in the 1950s, but that longer growing season is somewhat offset by more frequent rains shrinking the number of workable field days in the spring. Over the last 15 years, spring fieldwork days in Iowa have declined, mainly because of more frequent, more intense showers. These more chronic precipitation events during planting season are considered one of the bigger problems facing farmers in the region.

"One of the major vulnerabilities I believe we have across the Midwest region is how we manage water," said Jerry Hatfield, a USDA Agricultural Research Service plant physiologist, in Ames, Iowa. "We have got this variable precipitation. So the water management issues relative to untimely rainfalls in the spring get exacerbated in terms of impact. Then you've got 4 million acres of prevented planting."

Hatfield is the lead researcher for USDA's Midwest Climate Hub, one of seven such operations set up last year across the country. USDA officials created the hubs last year to analyze regional and local risks that face farmers, ranchers and foresters in coping with more extreme weather conditions. The hubs are part of the building block for USDA's national "climate-smart" agricultural adaption strategy. The hubs are tasked with pointing out the risks, but they also analyze or recommend strategies available to producers to cope with changing climate conditions.

"We have to look at it from a viewpoint of a producer that these strategies need to stabilize yield, increase profitability, or efficiency and have all of these other side benefits," Hatfield said.


Climate science tends to project out decades to highlight accumulative effects of higher greenhouse-gas emissions on global warming. One problem with such modeling is that individual farmers and livestock producers aren't fixated on what the cropping or forage conditions are going to look like in 2065.

"If you are a farmer, what happens 50 years from now is not as important as what happens in the next 50 days," said Steve McNulty, a USDA Forest Service landscape ecologist who heads the Southeast Climate Hub. "We really focus a lot of our attention on the climate variability and very little on the change aspect. Because if you are doing sustainable measures that work now, chances are they will still work in the next 50 years. So that's our focus."

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