Tue Jul 20, 2010 02:10 PM CDT
Adapting Ag to Climate Change 07/20 14:01 Farmers and Officials Look at Ways Farming May Have to Adapt Farmers explained their difficulties with changing climate, while researchers laid out possible scenarios at an event Monday in Denver. The meeting was held by the Obama administration's Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. By Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor DENVER (DTN) -- When it comes to adapting to a changing climate, Wayne Hurst, first vice president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, says farmers will do what they have always done in the face of risk. "We're still going to try to maximize our production and our marketing opportunities," said Hurst, who farms near Burley, Idaho. "We still have those tools in place to try to minimize the risk." Hurst was one of a small number of farmers at an all-day meeting Monday which focused on helping agriculture adapt to climate change. The event was held by the Obama administration's Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, which is preparing a report for the president on how the country will deal with a changing climate over the next several decades. Agriculture's role is critical because global population is projected to hit about 9 billion by 2050 and food demand will increase. However, arable land may decline through the century as the climate changes. When asked why the National Association of Wheat Growers reversed course and began to oppose a climate bill after working on it, Hurst said many farmers pressured the national group and their state associations last year over the bill. Coming from a NAWG leadership meeting last week, Hurst said producers also had a lot of questions and genuine concerns. LOTS OF QUESTIONS, CONCERNS "Will the solution be far worse than the problem?" Hurst said. "That's a darned good question. On competitiveness, how will we compete in the world market? We compete on a global market." Hurst added, "I'm a little concerned I haven't heard a lot about profitability today." USDA has almost every agency in the department looking at how climate change will affect agriculture, said Bill Hohenstein, director of USDA's Climate Change Program. One of USDA's strategic goals under the Obama administration is to make agriculture and forestry more resilient to the long-term effects of climate change. On Tuesday, USDA released a new report on how the U.S. Forest Service will respond to climate change. USDA's Risk Management Agency is looking at how climate change will affect risk management and if climate change will affect the long-term solvency of the program. Models show that without reducing emissions, temperatures could rise 10 degrees F over the next century across North America, said Donald Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois. In such a case, Illinois' climate would be comparable to weather in eastern Texas now. Jim Koan, an orchard producer from Flushing, Mich., said his apple crop has been wiped out in recent years, due to early warming periods. They prompt trees to flower, then spring freezes kill them. The biggest challenge Koan faces has been changing insect lifecycles that have produced more generations of pests in a crop year. This increased costs for him. "There is a greater risk to perennial crops, because once you lose it, you are done for the year," he said. Brad Udall, director of Western Water Assessment at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explained that rainfalls have become more intense in some parts of the country, while water diminishes in others. Water systems already stressed and projected to see population increases will face more stress. The rush is on to figure out how to manage water resources, because water is connected to every sector of the economy, particularly energy and agriculture. Energy companies need water to cool down their power plants and a lot of renewable energy relies on water as well. "So, as we move forward in the 21st Century, we need to think about these connections between water and energy," he said. FACING WATER BATTLES Colorado farmers already face significant water battles. Amy Kunigi, general manager of a fruit and vegetable farm in southern Colorado, said her area only receives about 7 inches of rain a year and cannot afford any reductions. The farms in the San Luis Valley rely on irrigation, yet they have to fight constant attempts from growing communities that try to export water. "I think that's another risk for agriculture: the cities want our water," she said. Curtis Sayles, a farmer from Siebert, Colo., said farmers have techniques to help them adapt, but need to be proactive. Sayles pointed out he faced essentially a 7-year drought from 2000-2007, but recently saw a storm blow through in which areas of eastern Colorado saw 2 to 5 inches of rain fall in less than an hour. Sayles, who began no-till in 1996 and moved to continuous no-till by 1999, said his farm held together. Farmers in the area who till their crops are still rebuilding their farms. "These are the things we need to control," he said. "Not only did they lose their topsoil, but they lost their water, because it ran off. We were able to hold back the residue and keep that water." Sayles, however, also was critical of some federal programs meant to help with conservation practices. The Conservation Stewardship Program, on paper, looks good, but the targets are set too low, the program is underfunded and payments are too low for the large acreages of the west. In addition, payment limits hinder the program and prevent widespread adoption, he said. Sayles said USDA's Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service also use different income-eligibility caps for such programs. "The program needs to be brought back into the shed and reworked," Sayles said. Information on the administration's climate change adaptation task force can be found at Chris Clayton can be reached at (CZ/ES) Copyright 2010 DTN/The Progressive Farmer, A Telvent Brand. All rights reserved.