No doubt about it, climate change is real.
It wasn’t the constant barrage of news about homeless polar bears, melting glaciers and rising seas that swayed us. Nor was it the blur of scientific jargon or the so-called hockey stick of temperature change.
Americans need to see and feel something before we accept it, which is exactly what is happening now.
We all know something’s up. The wind blows harder, it rains more and more often in some places, not at all in others. Springs are perfect one year, perfectly awful the next. The weather is, well, messed up.
According Jerry Hatfield, director of the USDA – ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, in Ames, Iowa, it’s going to get worse. And agriculture needs to be prepared.
Hatfield, addressing members of the media during Monsanto’s Media Days recently said, “When we talk about climate change, most everyone immediately has this assumption that we are changing the climate uniformly across the United States. But we’ve changed differently in different regions. And we’ve seen an increasing pace in which these changes occur.
“We’ve been through a relatively quiet period, climate-wise, but we’re going to be moving back into a period in which we’re going to have very radical shifts.”
This becomes a big concern for us in agriculture, according to Hatfield. “Just like the weather is not affecting the United States uniformly, it’s not going to affect all crops the same way. We’ve got high temperature stresses, and we have water stresses that are going to impact that crop during various stages of the life cycle.”
Major impacts and shifts may also occur in insect, weed and disease control, which can add to the problem, Hatfield added.
Various crops will react differently to these stresses, noted Hatfield. “We talk a lot about high temperature stresses on grain crops, but fruit trees are actually much more susceptible from the high temperature side for an entirely different reason.”
If nighttime temperatures rise as the climate changes, “We don’t fulfill the chilling requirement during the winter,” Hatfield said. “Warm winters are actually very detrimental to fruit trees. Fruit trees need exposure to cool temperatures in order to set fruit.”
More intense storms whipping across unprotected cropland can lead to degradation of soil resources through both wind and storm-related runoff, Hatfield said. “We have to look at climate change from a systematic point of view. We have to understand all of these dynamics, and we also have to understand regionality and the crop-specific nature of climate change.”
The challenge for producers is to protect their natural resources from the effects of more volatile weather and adjust their cultural practices while maintaining profitability.
“We’re in for a wild ride,” Hatfield said. After this spring, I think it’s already begun.