Stakeholders Must Study Climate Assessment, Contribute to Discussion

U.S. agriculture has always been innovative in meeting the challenges to production posed by changing growing conditions in the various parts of the country. So, farmers, foresters, ranchers and land owners are likely paying some serious notice to the recently released draft version of the Third U.S. Climate Change Assessment, particularly in the wake of one of the worst years for weather-related disasters in our nation’s history.

Written on behalf of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a collaboration of 13 federal agencies, by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, an advisory panel of 60 leading scientists, the quadrennial report says that the country’s recent wave of extreme weather events is due to a changing climate.

The report’s agriculture chapter confirms and expands upon some similarly serious assertions found in the collaboration’s 2009 report, stating that climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further over the next 25 years. “By mid-century and beyond, these impacts will be increasingly negative on most crops and livestock,” the draft report says.

Furthermore, the assessment says 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 factors. Also, the current loss and degradation of critical agricultural soil and water assets by increasing extremes in precipitation will continue to challenge both rain-fed and irrigated agriculture unless innovative conservation methods are implemented.

The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock productivity, the assessment warns. And while agriculture has been able to adapt to recent changes in climate, “increased innovation will be needed to ensure the rate of adaptation of agriculture and the associated socioeconomic system can keep pace with future climate change,” the report states.

What’s at stake, say the experts? With global population set to exceed 9 billion by 2050, climate change effects on agriculture will have consequences for food security both in the United States and globally, not only through changes in crop yields, but also changes in throughout the supply line, including food processing, storage, transportation, and retailing.

While the cause of these changing climate conditions remains in dispute within U.S. agricultural circles, producers readily acknowledge the conditions are changing the way they go about their jobs, whether its earlier planting seasons or sowing genetically enhanced crops that have larger root systems capable of surviving extreme weather events.

The 25x’25 Alliance is undertaking research and putting together recommendations in how best to deal with changing weather patterns. Given that agriculture is an energy-intensive sector and that changing conditions will likely create additional demand for energy, the Alliance recognizes that efforts need to be made to adapt to these conditions so that producers can contribute the the goal of meeting the 25x’25 renewable energy goals while continuing to produce safe, abundant and affordable supplies of food, feed, fiber and fuel.

Sixteen months ago, the Alliance convened an Adaptation Work Group, a collaboration of leaders from the agriculture, forestry, business, academic, conservation and government sectors chaired by Fred Yoder, a former president of the National Corn Growers Association. The group’s mission has been to explore the impacts of a changing climate on the United States agriculture and forestry sectors and to develop recommendations to address its related opportunities and challenges.

In February 2012, the Work Group published a background brief, “Agriculture and Forestry in a Changing Climate: The Road Ahead,” which offered the anticipated impacts of changing climate conditions on agriculture and forestry, based on a survey of existing research done to that point.

Later this winter, the Work Group will issue a second report offering key recommendations for research, production systems, risk management and ecosystem services that producers can implement to maintain economically and environmentally sustainable operations. The coming document is the result of not only the expertise of Work Group members, but also feedback from producers and supporting groups nationwide.

Pending the publication of the Adaptation Work Group recommendations, the 25x’25 Alliance strongly urges all stakeholders to review the draft National Climate Assessment and contribute to the discussion through the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s comment process, which closes April 12. While the draft assessment also will be reviewed by the National Academies of Science, it is critical that policy makers hear from those on the front lines of U.S. agriculture and forestry so that the tools needed to adapt to a changing climate are researched, developed, and made readily available.

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