Climate Change Could Have Huge Impact on Agriculture

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drought cost Nebraska millions in 2012. Without irrigation, some say the damage could have been in the billions.Climate experts like Dr. Donald Wilhite say that kind of devastation could one day be the new normal. "It's something our children and grandchildren are going to be facing," Wilhite said.It's been called the great "flash drought" of 2012. The heat soared and rain stopped, leaving pastures and non–irrigated crops devastated. As bad as it was, Wilhite says it could be the new normal. He said, "2012 is projected to become the average year for Nebraska."A University of Nebraska climate scientist, and former head of the National Drought Mitigation Center, Dr. Wilhite says climate change is accepted by 97 of 100 scientists. He calls that overwhelming consensus.Nebraska Farmers Union says it's time to accept that. John Hansen of Farmers Union said, "It is not reasonable or productive to deny the physical science."They argue agriculture will be hugely affected. The science shows there will be more high temperature stress days impacting crops and livestock and changes in rainfall. Dr. Wilhite lead a study that found temperatures in Nebraska could rise 4-5 degrees or even up to 8-9 degrees by the end of the century.Hansen said, "We already live in a marginal area, it takes very little change in annual rainfall or precipitation patterns or heat patterns to have huge impacts."Farmers Union says it drives their desire for more renewable energy, namely wind and ethanol. Rene able energy can bring dollars to rural areas. And while they say agriculture contributes to climate change, they say farming practices can more than offset that. Dr. Wilhite said, "A solution to the problem is agriculture and the way people farm and crops they farm and cultivate and so forth.""Ag can also be significant part of solution. If we do it right, we should be rewarded for helping deal with this environmental challenge," John Hansen said.Where agriculture can make a difference is capturing carbon from power plants and industry. It's a process called carbon sequestration. Hansen said farmers may need to adopt new practices or even plant different crops.

The report Climate Change: Implications for Nebraska by the University of Nebraska lists impacts to agriculture:

1. Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to increase over the next 25 years. By mid-century and beyond, these impacts will be increasingly negative on most crops and livestock.

2. Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests, and other climate change induced stresses.

3. Current loss and degradation of critical agricultural soil and water assets due to increasing extremes in precipitation will continue to challenge both rainfed and irrigated agriculture unless innovative conservation methods are implemented.

4. The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock productivity because critical thresholds are already being exceeded.

5. Agriculture has been able to adapt to recent changes in climate; however, increased innovation will be needed to ensure the rate of adaptation of agriculture and the associated socioeconomic system can keep pace with climate change over the next 25 years.

6. Climate change effects on agriculture will have consequences for food security, both in the U.S. and globally, through changes in crop yields and food prices and effects on food processing, storage, transportation, and retailing. Adaptation measures can help delay and reduce some of these impacts.

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