Climate change will harm Illinois farms, scientists warn

Agriculture in Illinois and the entire Great Lake system could be under threat if the region's climate changes, a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has warned.

Changing precipitation patterns, more extreme rainfall and weather events, rising ozone concentrations and an increase in pests and pathogens will disrupt current farming practices throughout the region, according to Impacts on agriculture: Our region’s vital economic sector.

“Farmers in the region are already suffering from wetter spring and fall weather, and the intensity of rainstorms has also increased,” said co-author and associate professor from the University of Illinois Michelle Wander. “For farmers, these changes mean crop losses and higher costs.”

UCS co-author Steve Clemmer agreed that agriculture formed an important part of the global warming problem – and could also form part of the solution to it.

“Practical solutions exist today for farmers to reduce heat-trapping gas emissions from their operations,” he pointed out. “Along with addressing climate change, many of the available solutions also reduce soil erosion, improve air and water quality and bring additional revenue to farmers and rural communities.”

By 2030, Illinois summers may resemble those of Oklahoma or Arkansas in terms of average temperature and rainfall, according to the report. However, by the end of the century, the region’s summer climate could generally resemble that of Texas if nothing is done to combat climate change.

Maximum daily temperatures could rise by five degrees Celcius, bringing the average summer up to around 20 degrees in the Great Lake region.

The report also showed that drought frequency would probably increase due to the combination of higher summer temperatures, evaporation, runoff from intense rainfall events and a decline in summer precipitation – all of which could have a disastrous impact on the Great Lakes.

With regards to agriculture, the changes to precipitation patterns would be of serious concern, the UCS stated, as crop production in Illinois is already suffering from problems related to both excess and insufficient moisture, and the progression of climate change would make these problems considerably worse.

Crops of corn and soybeans would be affected in particular, as the combination of high heat and flooding proves to be lethal to them.

“Ozone is particularly damaging to soybeans and the horticultural crops, and soybean yields in the region have already been reduced by approximately 25% because of ozone damage,” Professor Wander explained.

The report said the best solution would be policy changes that would address heat-trapping emissions, as well as an increase in funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

By Jane Kettle

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie