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Climate change, how does agriculture adapt?

A week ago, a giant snowstorm passed through the Mid-South. Today, it’s 71 degrees outside. Who knows what next week will bring. And it’s only February for gosh sakes.

All this just reinforces in my mind that some sort of climate change is occurring. Whether this change is caused by global warming, or whether or not global warming is caused by man’s activities, is irrelevant.

Governments believe they can reverse climate change through carbon credits, regionalization of economies, wind power, solar panels, etc. But I’m not so sure. The world’s industrial economy is a force not easily reckoned or tinkered with. For example, what does reducing greenhouse gas emissions here in the United States accomplish when China is expanding its highway construction and threatening to surpass the United States in automobile ownership?

We did not discuss who or what is to blame for climate change, or whether or not it is possible to reverse its effects. The point of the discussion centered on how agriculture can adapt and either use climate change to our advantage, or at least make it possible for agriculture to succeed in spite of it.

 “U.S. agriculture has some unique capabilities that our competitors do not have,” said Kater Hake, vice president of agricultural research, Cotton Incorporated, who led the discussion. “Understanding those advantages and how we can maximize them will make us more profitable in the long term.”

One of the most interesting concepts was the impact of temperature and carbon dioxide on crop yield. Hake pointed out that some crops, like cotton, can handle higher temperatures more efficiently, while others, like corn and grain sorghum in particular, are very responsive to elevated levels of carbon dioxide.

Cotton, corn and peanuts seem to handle the combination of higher temperatures and elevated carbon dioxide better than other crops. Hake noted that some physiologists have attributed the increase in cotton yields over the last 20 years to the slow, upward trend in carbon dioxide. “I certainly couldn’t disagree with that.”

Hake believes that climate disruption will impact agriculture in many ways over the next 20 to 30 years, and these changes will reverberate across the globe.

“It’s going to do it directly through weather variability – too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold. This can have a rapid effect on commodity prices and governmental policies.”

Industries that do the best job of adapting to this volatility and variability will come out on top.


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