Adapting to climate change

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Changing climate patterns already affect agriculture in the United States, and the effects will become more pronounced over the next 20 years. To sustain the ability to provide affordable food, feed, fiber and fuel in the future, U.S. agriculture and forestry will need to take a broad, collaborative approach in planning for and adapting to change, according to a new report from the 25x”25 Alliance.

The report, "Agriculture and Forestry in a Changing Climate: Adaptation Recommendations" was compiled by the 25x'25 Adaptation Work Group, a collaboration of agriculture, forestry, business, academic, conservation and government leaders who have spent more than 18 months exploring the impacts of a changing climate and other variables on U.S. agriculture and forestry. The group outlined the report in a web-based news conference on April 2. Panelists for the conference included:

  • Fred Yoder - Chairman of the Adaptation Work Group and Past President of the National Corn Growers Association
  • Gene Takle - Iowa State Climate Science Program Director
  • Chuck Rice - Kansas State University Distinguished Professor of Soil Microbiology, Past-President of the Soil Science Society of America
  • Ray Gaesser - Iowa Grain Farmer and First Vice President of the American Soybean Association

The 25x’25 Alliance is a broad coalition of groups centered on a goal of U.S. farms, ranches and forests producing 25 percent of U.S. energy needs by 2025, while continuing to meet demands for food, feed and fiber. The group believes U.S. agriculture can achieve that goal, but says climate change will add to the challenges. To address those challenges, 25x’25 assembled a diverse Adaptation Work Group, which produced the recommendations in the report.

During the news conference, Iowa State University professor Eugene Takle, who also serves as director of ISU’s Climate Science program, displayed graphs from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA showing a steady increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1960, coinciding with a steady increase in global temperatures.

Takle also showed data from Iowa illustrating the increase in weather extremes. Annual precipitation, on average, has increased in Iowa since 1870, and so have heavy-rainfall years. Since 1950, Iowa has had five years with precipitation averaging over 40 inches. Between 1870 and 1950, there were three such years. There also have been more dry years – seven with precipitation less than 25 inches since 1950 compared with 5 between 1870 and 1950.

Since 1950, Cedar Rapids has experienced 18 years with more than 40 inches of precipitation. Between 1890 and 1950, there were only two such years. In the 1890s, Cedar Rapids averaged 3.6 heavy rain events of 1.25 inches per year.  By 2011 the average increased 69 percent to 6.1 days.From 1890 to 1950 there were no years in which daily precipitation exceeded 2.5 inches in eight or more days, but from 1950 through 2010 there were nine such days. Takle points out these heavy rain events create runoff, erosion and loss of topsoil.

ISU projections for future growing season precipitation show a continuing trend toward more high-precipitation years and more low-precipitation years over the coming decades.

These extreme weather events, rather than warming alone, require adaptations such as modified tillage practices to reduce erosion and conserve moisture, and development of more drought-resistant crop varieties.

Takle says climate change has some positive and some negative effects on agriculture. Longer growing seasons can bring higher yields in some commodity crops, and reduced frost damage. Some crops such as fruits in California need chilling hours to ripen. An increase in dry days, particularly in the East, West and South, result in moisture stress on crops. Higher heat and humidity favors more pests and pathogens, and an increase in the number of hot nights reduces livestock performance.

Yoder outlined the adaptation strategies the group recommends, which focus on three actions:

  • Actions to increase resistance to changes in climate in order to maintain existing practices
  • Actions to improve resilience by investing in steps that preempt disasters and restore systems in the wake of them
  • Actions to transform operations

Rice notes there is no single or simple solution for adapting to the changing climate. The group has developed specific recommendations under several broad headings.

  • Research
  • Risk Management
  • Decision-making Tools
  • Production Systems & Practices
  • Communications, Outreach, & Education

Carrying out the recommendations will require dialog and collaboration between a range of stakeholder groups. Currently, a variety of groups including Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers Association, Farmers Union, Association of Public Land Grant Universities, National Association of Conservation Districts, Nature Conservancy and others will serve as outreach partners to disseminate and discuss the recommendations.

Read the full report from 25x’25.

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shaun evertson    
Nebraska  |  April, 03, 2013 at 09:35 AM

I sure hope Americans are growing skeptical about the current climate change and environmental narratives. Rather than funneling private wealth into more studies and bureaucratic regulations (and into the pockets of the greens), we should continue as we have. What have we done for the last century if not adapt agricultural production to change? We've done so in such a superb fashion that we've gone from a nation where half the population were farmers/ranchers to the present 1-2 percent, and we've so massively expanded production, safety and quality that Americans pay less for more and better food than in any country on earth. We've exported our expertise to the point where famine -- once a fact of life for most -- is now the world-wide exception. Farmers and ranchers and the real boots-on-the-ground researchers at land grant universities and state extension services have led the way in adapting to a dynamic climate and environment. The world would be a much poorer place if we and our ancestors hadn't labored mightily in anonymity to adapt and flourish. Why ruin the best production collaboration/system the world has ever known and replace it with the top-down collectivist model. Collectivist agriculture has never led to anything but starvation and environmental ruin.

VA  |  April, 03, 2013 at 10:16 AM

Shaun is right. Maday needs to get his head out of the sand on climate change. Of course a research group is going to say that more research is needed in order to avert disaster! Having nine days of heavy rain over a 60 year period is NOT extreme. Vietnam has nine MONTHS of heavy rain EVERY year and they still have good farms. This research is false, self-serving and worthless. Drovers should not waste time on this fake issue.

John Maday    
Colorado  |  April, 03, 2013 at 02:46 PM

Gentlemen: You can choose to believe, or not believe whatever you want, but to attack a publication or a journalist for running a NEWS ARTICLE based on a report from a credible source seems rather misguided. Project leaders behind this report include representatives from Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association and other mainstream agricultural groups. Researchers include a distinguished list of Land Grant University professors of Agronomy, Soil Science, Climatology and others. For our publication to ignore their findings would be irresponsible.

Pat Zimmerman    
Rapid City, South Dakota  |  April, 03, 2013 at 03:35 PM

Evertson and his cronies really have their heads in the sand. The trace-gas composition of the atmosphere is changing faster than at any time in prior human history. This irrefutable fact was not conveniently invented by Green Zealots. It is the result of thousands of hard-working scientists with “boots on the ground” making quantitative, objective measurements. It is also irrefutable that Climate events, once predicted to occur every hundred years are now happening on decadal and annual time-scales. Extreme events of the last year include record heat waves in Australia, record floods in Brazil, record droughts in the Sahel and the Midwest, and record floods in China. Erratic weather has led to record wildfires in the US and record storm destruction extending from the Midwest to the East Coast. The NCDC reports that in 2012 there were 3,527 monthly weather records broken for heat, rain and snow in the US. Every State in the US was affected. These records were not made up. They were recorded by thousands of scientists of many political persuasions, religions and races on impartial instruments. And 2012 was not just a series of random incidents. The fact that more severe weather events would occur was predicted a decade ago by scientists. The physical, biological and chemical interactions that are intertwined with climate are better understood each day. All of it—not each specific event, but the prediction that more events would occur—has been predicted with increasing clarity by climate scientists in the form of scientifically-sound, peer-reviewed publications representing countless hours of hard work by people with “Boots on the Ground” all over the world. These scientists have compiled extensive rec

Rapid City, South Dakota  |  April, 03, 2013 at 03:37 PM

These scientists have compiled extensive records and impartial, objective, non-political research data that irrefutably documents that humans are one of the main contributors to dramatic changes in atmospheric chemistry, water quality and ecological diversity , and each of these factors contributes to climate forcing. The 25 by 25 group is eminently qualified to prepare a report recognizing that this forcing is likely to increase and alerting all of us to be prepared to face the consequences. The goal of simultaneously increasing farm productivity to meet ever-expanding demands for higher quality protein and at the same time preparing to cope with more extreme weather events and an accelerating rate of climate change will require the “collectivist” scientific collaboration across the disciplines of atmospheric science, soil science, hydrologic science, animal science and crop sciences. Extension scientists are an important link in their continuing role of translating knowledge created through the collaborative science process, into technology that we all use. To repeatedly parrot that human induced climate change is “pseudo-science” and a “non-issue” is an extremely Luddite-Like position that ignores the fundamental progress that science has enabled in many inter-connected human endeavors. These repeated claims that climate change is not real is an insult to farmers and ranchers with “boots on the ground” who are trying their best maintain and even increase sustainable productivity in the face of increasingly certain climate-related hardships.

north east  |  April, 03, 2013 at 04:28 PM

Global warming has STALLED since 1998. Google it. If my memory also serves me right it has only been the last 10,000 years or so that the climate has been static. Before that the earth had wide swings. Of course I was taught this back in high school. What should worry people more is global cooling. Google how many people die each year because of the cold, allot more than die from the heat. The North East was once under ice I sure don't think that would be very good myself.

shaun evertson    
Nebraska  |  April, 04, 2013 at 08:47 AM

If you read my comment you'll find no evidence of an attack. Show me some evidence of anthropogenic causality. Show me some evidence that the environmental/climate changes are anything but natural variations in a dynamic system. Most importantly, show me how the top-down approach is safer and superior to the present system, and how such an approach will avoid the mass starvation that command control of ag production has always produced. The world would be better served by a climate science community seeking knowledge and understanding rather than to support predetermined conclusions.

shaun evertson    
Nebraska  |  April, 04, 2013 at 08:49 AM


VA  |  April, 04, 2013 at 09:35 AM

Pat Z, You have no idea if the trace gas composition is changing faster now. You also seem to be unaware that the earth is well heat sinked, we are in no danger of over-heating. The fact that we are breaking thousands of records a year when we have taken millions of measurements over the last 100 years would not surprise or alarm any statistician. We have and will continue to break thousands of "records" every normal year for quite some time just to measure standard variation. If Maday has accurately portrayed this 25x25 group, they have completely discredited themselves by his first paragraph for the reasons Shaun has pointed out and the only danger is the danger of listening to them. Maday, Again I point to the alarm they raise over nine days of heavy rain over a sixty year period. That single alarm claim right there should clue you in on them being a fake research group. Noah could tell you something about alarming rain.

John Maday    
Colorado  |  April, 04, 2013 at 09:42 AM

Shaun: You will notice that neither this article nor the 25x’25 report focus on the cause of global climate change. For the purposes of this effort, the cause is irrelevant. The authors base their recommendations on evidence that the climate is changing, that change is accelerating and the extreme weather events we’ve seen in recent years (droughts, floods, heat waves, destructive storms) likely will become increasingly common. They suggest it might be a good idea for the agricultural community to plan and prepare. They acknowledge that farmers and ranchers always have adapted well to change. Farmers and ranchers also however, depend on universities and industry to develop the tools and technologies that allow them to do so.

Dublin  |  April, 04, 2013 at 08:59 PM

You missed his most important point but it is just as well because you don't have an answer for it. Perhaps instead of getting involved in politics that you don't understand you should stick to reporting on better hay and how to take care of calves.

VA  |  April, 05, 2013 at 08:59 AM

Maday, The only way to have a broad, collaborative approach as suggested by 25x25 is to make it mandatory. In our area, we are implementing the “New River Valley Livability Initiative” which means that farmers are losing control of their lands so that the counties can get a few extra federal dollars now. Our farmlands are becoming chess pieces for faceless bureaucrats who are building their ideal society—We already have a farmer who has lost his land to "compensate" for a road building project in another area.

VA  |  April, 05, 2013 at 09:19 AM

To anyone who wants to know who 25x'25 is, check out their website. and go to ABOUT in the upper left hand corner. Their website says it all.

Rapid City, South Dakota  |  April, 05, 2013 at 03:47 PM

Brian & Shaun, I am baffled by the logic of conspiratorially linking climate change science and agricultural policy. Scientific knowledge and preparations for extreme weather are not political and are unrelated to either “top down” or “bottoms up” policy. I am a former farm kid who appreciates the hard work, struggles and passionate commitment to the long-term health of the land by those who make their living in agriculture. It is important to report on research linking causes of atmospheric changes to their effects because better understanding benefits farmers through efficient preparation and effective coping strategies. Documentation that atmospheric composition changes are accelerating and linked to erratic weather is not political. The goal of science is pursuit of the truth through logical, independent reasoning, and extensive training to use the tools of science—critical examination of data, relentless hypothesis testing and focused experimentation. I am sorry that you do not realize that your information comes from the College of Scientific Distortion. The goal of the people that control your thinking is to make more money by obfuscating the truth, using the tools of denial, paranoia, and cherry-picked data to reinforce the natural human fear of change and to dodge responsibility and increase personal wealth. Unfortunately these tools are effective. They were carefully formulated, rehearsed and honed to a fine art by the same groups who for several decades successfully denied the impacts of smoking and air pollution. It is unfortunate that you eagerly embrace propaganda enticing you to act like cattle, dutifully entering the abattoir.

north east  |  April, 05, 2013 at 08:43 PM

Pz the same could be said about the other side. Without the fear of man made climate change their funding would dry up. We are either comming out of or going into an ice age I would prefer to be comming out of one. Ask youself why did the data used have to be manipulated and then the original data lost?

Rapid City, South Dakota  |  April, 08, 2013 at 03:33 PM

If you really believe that atmospheric scientists can conspire to “lose scientific data”, or manipulate the data of others, you have been either misled, or you are disingenuous. The idea that scientists could possibly hide or destroy the “magic data bullet” disproving human-induced climate change is unsupportable myth. Further, the idea that scientists scattered over the globe, each specializing in one of dozens of disciplines--ranging from paleoclimatology to biogeochemistry to meteorology to analytical chemistry to trace gas isotopic measurements-- whose research is critically and independently examined by experts in each of these specific disciplines , each of whom could be located in more than a hundred countries, and funded from unrelated and uncoordinated sources are somehow in collusion to falsify measurements and thereby increase funding, is simply illogical. Scientists are by nature skeptics. They thrive on conflict and disagreement. It is much harder to get funding to simply confirm the results of a colleague than to assert that preceding work is incomplete or has led to a disprovable hypothesis. To be funded, scientists have to convince a skeptical audience of experts that their proposed research will lead to new insights narrowing previous uncertainties. Those making subjective claims that the sky is falling have almost no chance to successfully compete for limited funding. In fact the major fault of the competitive scientific enterprise is that it favors very careful but conservative research and leads to understated predictions and small, but incremental steps in understanding. Brace yourself. The more we learn, the more we will have to fear.

SD  |  April, 08, 2013 at 10:02 PM

So.......where do events like earthquakes, volcanoes, and other such earth produced disasters spewing untold tons of gasses, dust, smoke, and other pollutants into the atmosphere figure into your equasions? Answere by each 'side' would be appreciated. Same deal for this question: since we have been taught in school for years that rainfall recycles, with the system being something like this: it rains/snows; that moisture is stored in lakes, soils, etc.; that evaporates into the skies. And the process repeats itself, so does that system still work? Or is our shortage of water due to the fact that we seem to need ever more and more of it for our own ideas, or is it just not distributed as we think we need it to be?

VA  |  April, 09, 2013 at 10:32 AM


VA  |  April, 09, 2013 at 10:49 AM

PZ, I have been thinking about your post and the only recent example I can think of to support your claim is the case of string theory in physics. All of the soft sciences are built on consensus-- Ten thousand people perform tests which seem to support a commonly held view. Nothing has been as non-scientific as the support for the common view on climate science. The trace gas isotropic measurements are perhaps the most egregious example of this. Any scientist will tell you that you cannot determine the composition of a swimming pool of non-uniform, different fluids by measuring one drop in one location one hundred times over the course of a year but this is what they do with air and then proclaim that the carbon dioxide levels are increasing.If the carbon levels are rising then you should expect the plants to start growing faster.

VA  |  April, 09, 2013 at 10:50 AM

If you were around in the early 90’s, perhaps you remember the huge volcano eruption that created a “greenhouse” effect that gave us beautiful sunsets for a year with all of the extra CO2 in the air. Where did all of that CO2 go? Why didn’t that push us past the tipping point? It is time to consider the fact that the earth is stable. If we get more carbon in the air, plants will pull it out. If things get warmer, outer space is a very large and effective heat sink which will take away our extra heat. Oh no! Where is the alarm that will lead to an increase in funding to study this problem? You are really good at questioning “generic industry” motives, maybe it is time to question alarmist motives as well.

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