Climate change could harm agriculture in southern US

Climate change could adversely affect some US agricultural regions, particularly in the south, according to a report released on February 10 1999 by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, which examines the effects of climate change on agriculture.


The report claims climate change has the potential to affect livestock and crops, local agricultural economies and crop production trends. Although climate change is not expected to threaten the ability of the US to produce enough food to feed itself through the next century, the report says some northern regions are expected to benefit from projected changes.

The report notes that the resiliency and adaptability of the US agricultural sector has made it one of the country’s most productive industries and gives the sector the ability to adapt to the changes associated with climate change. However, the report also finds that there remains a potential for negative effects, and particular regions, especially those in the south, will face greater obstacles in adapting to the challenges posed by climate change.

“Anyone with a stake in agriculture should be interested in the findings of this report, which shows that the farming industry we know today will not be the same in the future under the effects of climate change,” said Eileen Claussen, Pew Center Executive Director.

According to the report, climate change could cause grain yields to fall significantly in southern states, while in the north, longer growing seasons could increase yields of grains such as wheat. Changes in grain production and foraging regions could also cause shifts in the locations of livestock production. Uncertainty in the models does not allow precision in identifying localised effects.

The study finds that in order to develop the most accurate and credible assessment of the possible impacts of climate change, it is important to consider adaptation and human response, as well as to continue to develop improved climate change forecasts. But, given the potential impacts, farmers and the agricultural community must consider new strategies in the face of uncertainty.

The report states that the emerging consensus from modelling studies is that the net effects on US agriculture, with a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, may be small. But, these models may understate long-range impacts if the rate or magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions exceed projected levels. For example, extreme events – such as storms, droughts and early and late frosts caused by climate change – also could play a role in determining the ultimate impact of climate change on agriculture.

Additionally, secondary impacts of climate change, such as the potential for higher ozone levels, impacts on water resources and pest populations, contribute to the uncertainty and pose additional challenges not only to individual producers, but also larger agricultural economies.

The value of US agricultural commodities exceeds $165 billion at the farm level and over $500 billion after processing and marketing.

“The role of the US agricultural sector is too important for us to ignore these findings,” said Claussen. “The agricultural community can adapt to climate change, but adaptation takes time and resources, and with uncertainties related to the timing and magnitude of temperature changes, not all opportunities for adaptation are likely to be realised.”

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