Climate change affects crop yields in varying ways


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Soybeans are less sensitive to temperature and precipitation changes than corn plants. (Kevin Dooley/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 23, 2018

Researchers at the University of Nebraska recently published a study which details how climate change impacts crop yield variance on a hyper-local level.

The study analyzed U.S. Department of Agriculture data from more than 800 counties across North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas from 1968 through 2013. Collectively, they found that climate change caused about 25 percent of crop yield variance during that time. While temperature and precipitation changes were responsibile for 52 percent of crop fluctuations in some counties, they did not have any effect in others.

Similarly, the three crops that were studied: corn, soy and sorghum, all responded to the changing climate differently. Corn is more likely than the other two to be impacted by rising temperatures. When corn plants are not irrigated, yields are twice as likely to be harmed by increased temperatures. However, irrigated corn seemed to do relatively well in these conditions. Irrigated soy and sorghum plants were much less likely than non-irrigated plants to be negatively impacted by precipitation and temperature shifts too.

Suat Irmak and Meetpal Kukal are the study’s authors. They say that their work makes the case for continued climate change studies which consider different climate variables, crop types and growing conditions.

“I hope we are successful in getting across the message that there are changes in temperature and precipitation, (but) those changes are different over time and location, and they are having different impacts on our agricultural productivity,” Dr. Irmak said to the University of Nebraska. “That can help high-level advisers, decision-makers and policymakers to identify locations where those impacts are greatest so that resource allocation or re-allocation can make (fields) even more productive.”

The full study can be found in the journal Scientific Reports.

Climate change decreases number of working days for Illinois farmers


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Extreme heat and drought are becoming more common thanks to climate change, both lead to “kernel abortion” in corn plants. (Erick Larson/Mississippi State Extension)
Jenna Ladd | April 6, 2017

Researchers at the University of Illinois recently released a study that predicts the impact climate change will have on agriculture in the state.

The research article, published in PLOS One, centers around one variable called “field working days.” This term refers to the days during which the weather is suitable for farmers to plant, till, monitor, or harvest crops. Adam Davis is a University of Illinois USDA Agricultural Research Service ecologist. Davis said, “Everything else flows from field working days. If you’re not able to work, everything else gets backed up. Workable days will determine the cultivars, the cropping system, and the types of pest management practices you can use. We’re simply asking, ‘Can you get in to plant your crop?”

Utilizing previously developed climate models, the researchers predicted the number of field working days for farmers in Illinois from 2046 to 2065 and from 2080 to 2099. The study modeled three possible trajectories ranging from mild to severe climate change.

Notably, the study predicts that the usual planting window for corn, April and May, will be too wet for planting in the future. Too much rain can be harmful for seedlings because it can wash them away or lead to harmful fungal and bacterial growth.

Davis said, “The season fragments and we start to see an early-early season, so that March starts looking like a good target for planting in the future. In the past, March has been the bleeding edge; nobody in their right mind would have planted then. But we’ve already seen the trend for early planting. It’s going to keep trending in that direction for summer annuals.”

While the spring months grow wetter, summer months are predicted to become drier and hotter, especially in the southern parts of Illinois. “Drought periods will intensify in mid- to late-summer under all the climate scenarios. If farmers decide to plant later to avoid the wet period in April and May, they’re going to run into drought that will hit yield during the anthesis-silking interval, leading to a lot of kernel abortion,” Davis explained.

The article offers two possible adaptations for farmers. They could opt for earlier planting of long-season varieties that should have enough time to pollinate before summer droughts, but they’d risk getting hit by a late winter storm. Or, the researchers suggest, farmers could plant short-season cultivars that are harvested prior to summer droughts. In this case, growers could be sacrificing yield due to the shorter growing season.

Either way, Davis said, farmers should begin considering how they can best adapt to the changing climate. He said, “Now is the time to prepare, because the future is here.”

Northey requests additional funds to prepare for potential Avian flu outbreak


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The 2015 Iowa bird flu outbreak resulted in the death of 30 million hens. (Open Gate Farm/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 6, 2016

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey requested an additional $500,000 in funding last week for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Animal Industry Bureau.

The money would be used to prepare for and respond to a potential High Path Avian Influenza Disease outbreak. Northey’s request follows Iowa’s Avian Influenza outbreak last year, which resulted in the death of 30 million hens and 1.5 million turkeys. Northey said,

“I recognize we are in a very tight budget time in the state, due in large part to the challenging economic environment in Iowa’s ag industry.  However, it is important we continue to invest in priority areas that put the state in a good position for continued growth.”

Following the 2015 outbreak, Iowa’s economy took an estimated $1.2 billion hit and 8,400 people lost their jobs. Northey said that the funds would be used to help farmers increase biosecurity efforts against the disease, which can include vaccines and disinfecting shoes, hands, tires, and anything else that may come in contact with a poultry flock.

“The value of Iowa’s animal industry is $13.45 billion, and growing. Unfortunately, the High Path Avian Influenza outbreak last year showed how devastating a foreign animal disease can be in our state.  These funds would allow the Department to better prepare for a future animal disease emergency response,” Northey said.

In his statement, the secretary also emphasized his support for a proposal passed by the Iowa House of Representatives which would provide nearly $500 million through 2029 for water quality improvement.

ISU researchers study economic productivity of Iowa farmland


A screenshot of the economic productivity of Iowa farmland in 2015. (Iowa Environmental Mesonet/Iowa State University)
A screenshot of the economic productivity of Iowa farmland in 2015 based off of research by agronomists at Iowa State University. (Iowa Environmental Mesonet)
Nick Fetty | January 27, 2016

A team of researchers at Iowa State University recently published a study which found that “significant portions of Iowa farmland consistently produce yields that fall short of the cost of the inputs required to grow crops.”

The study was a collaboration between agronomists at ISU and AgSolver, an Ames-based agricultural services company. Together the researchers examined data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as data from ISU’s annual Farmland Value Survey. The data is available to the public through an interactive map on the Iowa Environomental Mesonet.

The research team estimated that 2.5 million hectares of Iowa farmland lost $250 or more per hectare last year. Additionally, roughly 6.2 million acres (approximately 27 percent of all Iowa farmland devoted to row crops) are expected to have lost $100 or more per acre.

Emily Heaton, an associate professor of agronomy at ISU and co-author of the study, said she hopes the research will provide farmers with alternative ways for re-purposing unproductive land. One alternative she suggested is to plant perennial grasses which can improve soil health, reduce erosion, provide wildlife habitat, and even serve as a renewable source of energy when harvested. Heaton is currently working with officials at the University of Iowa on the Biomass Fuel Project which uses perennial grasses such as miscanthus to power the UI campus.

The article was published earlier this month in the academic journal Environmental Research Letters.

Study finds lower ozone levels lift farm worker productivity


Photo by Mike Houge, Flickr.

The National Bureau of Economic Research released a report earlier this month, detailing the positive impact that low ozone levels have on farm workers.

Read more from the New York Times here:

The study found that on average, when ozone levels declined by 10 parts per billion — approximately the level of tightening proposed by the E.P.A. — worker productivity climbed 4.2 percent. Extrapolating from that result, an across-the-board reduction of 10 parts per billion might yield a $1.1 billion annual increase in economic value in the nation’s agricultural sector. Continue reading