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Purdue research urges farmers to adapt with climate change


This may have been a report written for Indiana, but it has applications in any highly agricultural state.

Purdue University recently published its Indiana Climate Change Impact Assessment, stating that: “Changes to the state’s climate over the coming decades, including increasing temperatures, changes in precipitation amounts and patterns, and rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air will result in several direct and indirect impacts to the state’s agricultural industry.”

The solution? Farmers will have to adapt more than ever in the coming decades.

There are several points titled “Key Findings” in the report, which was officially dated July 31, 2018, as well as offering ideas for how to cope with these issues. Among them: 

Finding: Warmer overnight temperatures in Indiana have contributed to reduced corn yields over the last decade. Elevated overnight temperatures increase plant respiration, reducing sugar availability for grain production, and it can affect the timing and success of pollination — resulting in lower crop yield. Observations show that Indiana corn yields are reduced by about 2 percent for every 1°F increase in overnight temperatures during July.

  • Coping: Earlier planting or using varieties that more quickly reach maturity could help corn plants avoid summer heat stress during pollination. Breeding corn for traits that improve factors contributing to yield in warmer conditions, may also help offset the effect of warming overnight temperatures.

Finding: Warming temperatures have the potential to increase rates of soil organic matter decomposition in Indiana by about 50 percent by mid-century, which can reduce infiltration and soil water holding capacity and increase the release of carbon dioxide and nitrogen gases from the soil into the atmosphere.

  • Coping: Adopting management practices that improve overall soil quality, such as increasing plant diversity and use of cover crops and reduced/no-till systems, can help maintain soil organic matter even as temperatures warm.

Finding: Higher temperatures will put Indiana livestock at increased risk of heat stress, which can lead to reduced animal feed intake, productivity and fertility. By mid-century, the annual number of days with high temperatures above 86°F, a critical threshold for livestock heat stress, is projected to double from 40 days per year to 80-100 days per year. The average duration of heat stress events is also expected to double.

  • Coping: Maintaining optimal micro-climates for confined feeding operations may require improved or expanded ventilation systems and increased energy, operating, and maintenance costs. Pasture-based systems may incur costs of additional shelters or other environmental buffers to protect animals from the increased frequency of weather extremes.

Finding: Increasing winter and spring precipitation will result in about a 30 to 50 percent increase in spring subsurface tile drainflow in Indiana by mid-century. These shifts will likely lead to nutrient loss from farm fields, and some existing drains may be overwhelmed by the higher flows.

  • Coping: Implementing in-field and edge-of-field conservation practices can reduce nutrient losses. Capturing drainflow during the non-growing season could become more effective as the timing of peak drainflow is projected to occur earlier in the winter and spring. Increased use of winter cereal crops, like rye, that capture nutrients and transpire water may help with managing water-stressed fields

The South Bend Tribune reported that Jeff Dukes, director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center, said, “We’re not talking about the causes, whether it’s man-made or natural. We’re focusing on how agriculture will have to adapt, how you’re going to be better off if you start looking ahead to changes that you might have to make in the future.”

The full 16-page report is definitely worth the read.

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