Iowa farmers are already adapting to changes in temperature, precipitation and humidity. That's what Gene Takle, an Iowa State University professor of meteorology, told a USDA seminar on climate change this week.
The seminar was organized by the USDA's Climate Change Program Office. It covered the science of climate change and it helped USDA staff understand how climate changes are affecting agriculture. The seminar was held June 7 in Washington, D.C., and was videotaped for streaming on the USDA's website beginning June 13. Look under the "Spotlights" section.
"We appreciate Gene coming out to brief us on his work on the relevance of climate change to agriculture," says Bill Hohenstein, the director of USDA's Climate Change Program Office. "Our technical staff is being asked to help farmers manage new risks and vulnerabilities from climate change. Getting access to the latest science and having an opportunity to hear from researchers like Gene Takle is very important in helping us do our job."
ISU's Takle is a respected expert on climate change and how it relates for agriculture
Takle is director of Iowa State's Climate Science Program, a professor of agronomy and of geological and atmospheric sciences. He has been studying climate science and regional climate change for about 20 years. He has contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international collaboration that was awarded a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He is a coordinating lead author for the agriculture chapter of the U.S. National Climate Assessment now in progress.
What is happening with climate change and its effects on agriculture?
His message he delivered to the USDA seminar is that Iowa farmers are seeing changes in the growing season (he shows chart after chart making the case) and farmers are adapting their crop production practices:
* The growing season is longer and so planting is earlier, with longer-season corn hybrids and later harvests.
* Springs are wetter and so farmers are using larger machinery to complete planting in smaller windows of dry weather.
* More summer rain allows planting corn at higher population densities.
* Wetter springs and summers mean more drainage tile is being buried under fields.
* Fewer hot spells mean plants can grow closer together and there are fewer pollination failures.
* Higher humidity means more spraying for pests that prefer moist conditions during the growing season. Higher humidity levels also mean longer grain drying in the fall.
* Drier falls mean delaying harvest to take advantage of natural drying of grain while it's still on the stalk as the crop stands in the fields.
Takle believes Midwest farmers have the resources to adapt to climate change
The bottom line is the potential for higher yields. "Is it genetics or climate?" Takle asks in his climate change presentations. "Likely some of each."
Takle believes Midwest farmers have the resources to adapt to climate change – "at least for now." He also says farmers are adapting to increase profits and prevent losses.
The 2011 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach found that 68% of Iowa farmers believe climate change is occurring. Of those, 35% believe climate change is caused by both natural environmental variations and human activities, about 25% attribute climate change to natural changes in the environment, and 10% believe it is caused mostly by human activities.
Takle says there is good reason to understand climate change: "Based on climate models," he says, "climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that the future will be more extreme than today, with regard to the weather."