Projecting climate impacts on ag

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Anticipating more volatile weather, more extreme temperatures and violent storms in the future, scientists are busy analyzing the potential effects on agriculture.To help prepare for these potential changes, USDA recently completed a study and released a detailed report titled “Climate change and agriculture in the United States: Effects and adaptation.”

Based on their analysis, the authors say the effects will be variable but mostly detrimental to crop and livestock production, which contribute about $300 billion per year to the U.S. economy. Direct effects such as rising temperatures and altered precipitation will reduce crop productivity more than any potential benefit from higher carbon dioxide levels, according to the report, and indirect effects such as changes in the competitive ability of weeds, diseases, insect pests and beneficial insects also will challenge productivity.

For livestock specifically, the report lists four ways in which climate change could affect productivity.

  • Feed-grain production, availability and price: Each crop species has a given set of temperature thresholds that define the upper and lower boundaries for growth and reproduction, along with optimum temperatures for each developmental phase. Pollination, the authors note, is one of the most sensitive stages to temperatures, and exposure to high temperatures during this period can greatly reduce crop yields and increase the risk of total crop failure.
  • Pastures and forage crop production and quality: Many perennial crops have a winter chilling requirement and yields will decline if the chilling requirement is not completely satisfied.  Also, mid-winter warming can lead to early bud-burst or bloom of some perennial plants, resulting in frost damage when cold winter temperatures return.
  • Animal health, growth and reproduction: For many species, deviations of core body temperature in excess of 2°C to 3°C cause disruptions of performance, production, and fertility, the report notes. For cattle that breed during spring and summer, exposure to high temperatures decreases conception rates. Livestock and dairy production may be more affected by changes in the number of days of extreme heat than by adjustments of average temperature.
  • Disease and pest distributions: Warmer, more humid conditions will also have indirect effects on animal health and productivity through promotion of insect growth and spread of diseases. These effects are not well understood, but earlier springs and warmer winters could enable greater proliferation and survivability of pathogens and parasites. Regional warming and changes of rainfall distribution may lead to changes in distributions of diseases sensitive to temperature and moisture, such as anthrax, blackleg and hemorrhagic septicemia.

The report projects the U.S. agricultural system can largely adjust to climate change in the short term by expanding irrigated acreage, shifting regional crop preferences, rotating crops and changing management practices such as choice and timing of inputs and cultivation practices.

In the long term, however, the vulnerability of agriculture will depend on human responses according to the report. This will require “development of geographically specific, agri­culturally relevant, climate projections for the near and medium term; effective adaptation planning and assessment strategies; and soil, crop and livestock management practices that enhance agricultural pro­duction system resilience to climatic variability and extremes.” We’ll also need research and development in new crop varieties that are resistant to drought, disease and heat stress.

The full report (193 pages) is available online from the USDA.

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Illinois  |  March, 11, 2013 at 09:06 AM

Hasn't agriculture always been impacted by climate? What's the big deal? We will just migrate existing crops northward and develop new varieties suited to prevailing weather -- same as we've always done. The real question is what if, after we've invested all this new money in global warming air raid drills the climate disappoints by ignoring us and changing back and forth like it always has? Or what if all the expensive balms and ointments to relieve the panic of global warming fail to control and reverse climate change? It is a pretty self-important assumption that man now controls climate and can reverse it at will by merely stripping away the traditional American lifestyle. It would probably take more than that -- if we could actually control climate at all in the first place. I suspect an agenda (or several) behind the most vocal climate scaremongering. I don't think any of them have the first good idea about weather patterns or actually growing crops on a commercial scale. I think they are mostly zealous poseurs.

Bruce Bodecker    
South Central Kansas  |  March, 11, 2013 at 11:46 AM

A few years ago I read a sience report that indicated increased sunspot activity. Last month I read an article that suggested that increased sunspot activity could be driving our current dry/hot weather. Duh? At Christmas I had a visit with some liberal relatives back home from the East coast. After one remark about the climate issue I just pointed out that 10,000 years ago New York City was under a sheet of ice, one mile thick. Did they want to go back to that weather pattern? How did man "change" that enviroment? The conversation "changed" imediately.

AK  |  March, 11, 2013 at 01:21 PM

With Vilsack at the helm and Merrigan manning the pumps I don't trust USDA's mission any more. They are too afraid of a flat earth to take us anywhere worthwhile. Seems the whole outfit is infiltrated by Meatless Monday hacks and closet anti-agriculture activists. Nowadays they spend more time and resources thinking of ways to regulate the bejeezus out of us. Heck, we don't even have a farm bill! I have to believe this USDA climate report is just another expensive drama to make us look like polluters and planetary rapists about to get our just deserves from a mistreated Mother Nature. Just like Vilsack was going to shut down all USDA services over a 2.5% budget cut. That tune is changed already. We need to dismantle USDA if it isn't useful to us. Just send them all home to beat up farming on their own time and on their own dime. A am sick of paying to be knifed in the back all the time.

Montana  |  March, 11, 2013 at 02:20 PM

It's hard to believe there is credence in climate change and the implications that it is man made. Weather patterms have been changing for a long time and wil continue to do so. Politicians and bureaucrates are nothing more than busy bodies with nothing better to do than create chicken little. What would happen if there wasn't a daily blog?

fed up with Feds    
New Bolton, PA  |  March, 12, 2013 at 05:43 AM

Is USDA seriously suggesting a 1 or 2 degree warming of climate would cause all animal core temperatures to rise? That certainly seems to be the implied threat in the 3rd bullet point in the list -- animals' core temperatures will all rise and reproduction will fail and everything will become extinct -- isn't that what they are claiming there? Jumpin' Jeebus, we need to shut down USDA right away before those useless fools can do some real damage. Does USDA even employ any real scientists anymore or are they all alarmist agenda driven tree huggers flailing around over there? Should at least rename the thing US Dept of Anti-agriculture or Anti-science or Anti-common sense. Dammit we pay for all that mess.

IN  |  March, 12, 2013 at 06:17 AM

Am I the only farmer out there that believes in global warming? Virtually all scientists agree that the planet is warming. The polar ice caps are shrinking. When you drive to town, don't you see all those cars and semi's on the road? Have you noticed there's more houses around than there used to be? That means more smoke from the power plant down the road. How could humans not be affecting the atmosphere?

Iowa  |  March, 12, 2013 at 08:30 AM

USDA runs the food stamp program for 47 million recipients. Why not cut the 2.5% out of the food stamp program and not furlough the meat inspectors. The cut would be the price of a pack of fags/ month. What are they afraid of? Riots?

TN  |  March, 12, 2013 at 09:20 AM

Dale: We don't have a problem "believing" in climate change. You throw that up as a strawman argument. What most of us are not convinced of is your assumption you can control climate and even reverse it by somehow (magically?) making all those "cars and semis and houses and power plants" disappear. Even if you could, even if you could throw us all the way back into the dark ages do you really "believe" that would reverse climate trends? You are free to believe such things, if it pleases you, but rational thinking people will always be skeptical. There's no Easter Bunny either, but don't let our disbelief spoil your fantasies. Just keep 'em to yourself, quietly divest yourself of all CO2 production, take cold showers in the dark and lay in a goodly supply of Easter grass without insisting we do the same and we will ignore you, OK? I promise we will not force you to drive a Hummer if you will not force Meatless Mondays on us. Deal, Dale?

PA  |  March, 12, 2013 at 09:23 AM

It's just that the earth hasn't warmed for a couple of decades (, the antarctic icecap has been growing for many years and arctic icecap is now closer to historic norms ( and not all scientists are so convinced of global warming after all ( Of course, we were warned of the roaring and tossing of the sea some 2000 years ago, but that climate change prediction has little to do with carbon. (

ohio  |  March, 12, 2013 at 10:07 AM

More fear-mongering from our friends in the federal leviathan. It's staggering what a bureaucrat will come up with to continue to justify their own existence.

In  |  March, 12, 2013 at 11:26 AM

Marsha, your response is exactly what puzzles me with all the rhetoric about climate change. Why all the sarcasm? I didn't say we should stop driving motor vehicles or using electricity in our homes. Meatless Mondays? I raise hogs. Not for the fair. I eat them. (I eat rabbits sometimes too!) I have no idea how to stop climate change. But why are you so sure that CO2 emissions have nothing to do with global warming? They may not be the only factor, but it seems likely they are contributing.

Carmine T.    
March, 12, 2013 at 01:58 PM

Easy now Dale. I think these folks are aware of climate but they seem apprehensive about all the hoopla over what everyone expects them to do about it. Just as you say, climate goes up and down and maybe humans impact it a little bit. So what? Why the big guilt trip over those cars and semis and power plants? Now every time it snows or the wind gets up it is the storm of the century caused by climate change (as if it never snowed or rained or stormed before during recorded history). It is all too overdone, too emotional, too accusatory somehow. Passion around this issue seems to be pushed from two directions. Some comes from zealots desperate to smear capitalism with labels like polluter or destroyer. A lot comes from autocrats sensing an opportunity to regulate our lives in minute detail. Will any of that really change climate? How much will it take, exactly, to cool the planet 2 degrees, re-freeze the Arctic, push back sea level? If you really could achieve any of that, how far back is far enough? Who decides if it should be 2 degrees or 20 degrees, 3 inches or 103 inches, frozen to Greenland or frozen to Disneyland? This whole climate debacle is another one of those juvenile "well I think it's best for you - maybe it will help, it can't hurt so just do exactly as I tell you to do" panic attacks, isn't it? Someone thought they smelled smoke now everyone is milling about frantically dashing their drinks against the ceiling of a building they believe might be burning. Sort of makes you wonder how any animal so ignorant could manage to ruin an entire planet. Even more remarkable to think they could then save it. Looks sounds and smells like business as usual over at the whacko carnival. Nothing to get too worked up ove

Chicago Board of Trade  |  March, 12, 2013 at 03:31 PM


IL  |  March, 12, 2013 at 10:26 PM

Did anyone read the report before commenting? It talks a great deal about adapting and very little that I saw about regulating. It concludes in part: "A climate-ready U.S. agricultural system will depend on easy access to useable climate knowledge, improved climate risk management strategies, effective adaptation planning and assessment methods, and the development of more resilient production systems." One of the things we need to adapt to climate change (and other production challenges) is Ag Research funding, but it has been flat or declining for years. Congress needs to be pushed to provide the funds needed to help address these issues.

Missouri  |  March, 13, 2013 at 06:20 AM

Right there is another agenda behind all this craziness. More funding for public ag research will not solve anything. Ag research these days is mostly hobby farmer feel good bulletins. No living ag researcher is going to calm all the hysteria surrounding global warming however much money we line his and her pockets with. It probably would make it worse like where USDA tells us animals are going to overheat and stop breeding. Why would we pay anything to be told nonsense like that. What the hell sort of disaster planning is that? You used the word resilient in your comment Ken so we figure you are with USDA or extension or some other part of the budget problem. I have heard some pretty colorful language used here in the farm shop but I can't ever remember anyone ever uttering the word resilient. Dead giveaway.

March, 14, 2013 at 07:46 PM

Reading this string of comments has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. Most of you certainly give the farmer a bad name by your sarcastic, over-the-top and UNEDUCATED comments. Dale and Ken are the only ones who seem to have a brain in their head. Most of you are missing the point completely. You sound ridiculous. Seriously, folks, do a little research.

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