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
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. http://www.fs.fed.us/ccrc/
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
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,"
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
Information on the administration's climate change adaptation task force can
be found at
Chris Clayton can be reached at email@example.com
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