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Published May 12, 2014, 10:14 AM

Climate change affects farming

The White House released its third and latest assessment of climate change, including a special chapter on agriculture that declares climate change is affecting farming in every region of the country.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — The White House released its third and latest assessment of climate change, including a special chapter on agriculture that declares climate change is affecting farming in every region of the country.

“Climate change is not a distant threat,” John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s science adviser, said at a White House briefing, adding that it is affecting the country now with hotter summers and earlier forest fires.

“For years we have been collecting the dots, now we are connecting the dots,” Holdren added.

“Crop and animal agriculture producers are already facing increased challenges,” said Gene Takle, an Iowa State University professor, at a White House briefing.

Takle, one of the convening lead authors of the agriculture section of the report, noted that every region of the country has crops and animals that have adapted to local conditions. But he said those conditions are changing, with more severe storms, earlier hot weather and worse forest fires.

The White House report includes a chapter on how climate change affects farming in various regions of the country. Takle noted that California cherry trees, which have been accustomed to 900 hours of “chilling” between seasons in California, no longer get that much of a break.

“Farmers are beginning to connect the dots and realize that things underpinning are changing,” he said.

Takle also noted the impact of climate change is not just on direct crop and animal production, but on side industries such as transportation.

“Food miles” — the number of miles agricultural products travel from production to consumption — should be reduced, Takle said.

John Podesta, counselor to the president, urged the scientists who attended the event to push Congress and other politicians to take action.

Even though some conservative groups question whether climate change exists, the assessment proves “there is no debate,” Podesta said. “It is real, it is being driven by human activity.”

All the panelists called for action to reduce climate change.

Kristin Jacobs, a Broward County, Fla., commissioner and the only elected official on the panel, said the level of partisan debate in Washington troubles her, and she hopes local officials will have “the spine to stand up against what some ideologues want them to say.”

Key messages on agriculture:

• Increasing impacts on agriculture — Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to increase in the next 25 years. By mid-century and beyond, these impacts will be increasingly negative on most crops and livestock.

• Extreme precipitation and soil erosion — Current loss and degradation of critical agricultural soil and water assets due from increasing extremes in precipitation will continue to challenge both rainfed and irrigated agriculture unless innovative conservation methods are implemented.

• Heat and drought damage — The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock productivity because critical thresholds are already being exceeded.

• Rate of adaptation — Agriculture has been able to adapt to recent changes in climate; however, increased innovation will be needed to ensure the rate of adaptation can keep pace with climate change in the next 25 years.

• Food security — Climate change effects on agriculture will have consequences for food security, both in the U.S. and globally, through changes in crop yields and food prices and effects on food processing, storage, transportation and retailing. Adaptation measures can help delay and reduce some of these impacts.

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