USDA: Warming Will Devastate Agriculture
February 7, 2013
Phil Robertson is a senior crop and soils researcher at Michigan State University, and a contributing author of the forthcoming US Global Change Research Program report on climate change. I interviewed Dr. Robertson in early July, 2012, as the drought was deepening, and the realization was setting in that we were in a historically intense dry period.
I clipped the middle part where we discussed drought events that were current at that moment – what’s most interesting is his generic assessment of the science on “co2 fertilization” and what deniers like to call the “greening of planet earth”.
One of the most absurd of Climate denial myths, and therefore one of the most cherished – is that “CO2 is good for plants” – therefore, global warming will benefit agriculture. The logic is, apparently, that Co2 is an inconsequential trace atmospheric gas that has no effect,… and is critical to all life on the planet.
To follow up on this, you could, of course, poll midwest farmers to find out how all that co2 has been helping with crops during this ongoing drought, do a quick review of grain price trends..
Or, you could, as the USDA has, review 1400 technical publications on the topic.
…the agricultural report indicates increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, rising temperatures, and altered precipitation patterns will affect agricultural productivity. USDA says the changing climate will exacerbate the stresses already occurring from weeds, insects, and disease.
Additionally, increases in the incidence of extreme weather events will have an increasing influence on agricultural productivity. Over the next 25 years, the effects of climate change on agricultural production and economic outcomes for both producers and consumers in the United States are expected to be mixed, depending on regional conditions.
Beyond 2050, changes are expected to include shifts in crop production areas, increases in pest control expenses, and greater disease prevalence. Although some regions will be affected more than others, these disturbances are likely to change the structure and function of ecosystems across millions of acres over a short period of time.
A special report on forestry notes how forests will be affected – anticipated changes include increased tree mortality, changes in species assemblages, and reduced water quality.
WASHINGTON — Climate change could have a drastic and harmful effect on U.S. agriculture, forcing farmers and ranchers to alter where they grow crops and costing them millions of dollars in additional costs to tackle weeds, pests and diseases that threaten their operations, a sweeping government report said Tuesday.
An analysis released by the Agriculture Department said that although U.S. crops and livestock have been able to adapt to changes in their surroundings for close to 150 years, the accelerating pace and intensity of global warming during the next few decades may soon be too much for the once-resilient sector to overcome.
“We’re going to end up in a situation where we have a multitude of things happening that are going to negatively impact crop production,” said Jerry Hatfield, a laboratory director and plant physiologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and lead author of the study. “In fact, we saw this in 2012 with the drought.”
By the middle of the century and beyond, adaptation becomes more difficult and costly as plants and animals that have adapted to warming climate conditions will have to do so even more — making the productivity of crops and livestock increasingly more unpredictable. Temperature increases and more extreme swings in precipitation could lead to a drop in yield for major U.S. crops and reduce the profitability of many agriculture operations. The reason is that higher temperatures cause crops to mature more quickly, reducing the growing season and yields as a result. Faster growth could reduce grain, forage, fiber and fruit production if the plants can’t get the proper level of nutrients or water.
Among the biggest threat to crops from rising temperatures and accelerated levels of carbon dioxide is an increase in the cost for the agricultural industry to control weeds, a challenge that tops more than $11 billion annually, according to the study. Warmer weather provides an ideal atmosphere for weeds to thrive, but at the same time, it can stunt the growth of traditional plants like grain and soybeans.
The USDA review said climate change will affect livestock by throwing off an animal’s optimal core body temperature, which could hurt productivity and limit the production of meat, milk or eggs. A warmer and more humid weather pattern is likely to increase the prevalence of insect and diseases, further diminishing an animal’s health and output.
The 146-page report, written by a team of 56 authors from the federal government, universities, the private sector and other groups, stopped short of providing answers on how to stop or curtail global warming. The analysis was done by reviewing more than 1,400 publications that looked at the effect of climate change on U.S. agriculture.
US Global Change Research Program – draft report for 2013 – Chapter 18, “The Midwest” – Key messages:
1. In the next few decades, longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels will increase yields of some crops, though those benefits will be increasingly offset by the occurrence of extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, and floods. In the long term, combined stresses associated with climate change are expected to decrease agricultural productivity, especially without significant advances in genetic and agronomic technology.
Below, the “CO2 is Plant Food” Crock: