Frequently on the nightly news, the major networks run fear-mongering stories on the rising polar temperatures, El Niño, and greenhouse gasses. While we should be alert, climate change should not be considered a bad thing in all contexts. If South Dakota had not experienced significant warming over the last 10,000 years we would still be covered by what geologists estimate to be more than 1500 feet of ice – that is over ¼ mile thick! That’s a lot of frozen water and I’m glad that I wasn’t trying to no till corn under those conditions! I’m not sure I would want to dodge those pesky dinosaurs either…
So what is the immediate risk of climate change to farmers in our area? First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that our environment is ever changing and that even though we influence it to some degree, we do not drive the forces that are changing. According to Mark Seely, MN Extension Climatologist, the Midwest will move away from times of frequent, smaller amounts of widespread rainfall to times of fast, larger rainfall amounts less frequently. This means we are less likely to see light rainfalls that fall all day or over several days’ time, and more likely to experience events of heavy rainfall that lasts for a very short amount of time, with more time in between rain events. Annual rainfall in Beadle County has actually increased about 2” since 1960.
I can recall the winter of 1968 when I felt I lived in “Snowmageddon.” Our area got many lengthy snowstorms throughout the winter. We had to move it every single day before we could even start our daily chores. Maybe my memories of that winter, and several others similar to it, make me think that any move toward global warming is good!
Farmers, by nature and necessity, are good stewards of the soil, but we can always make improvements. The no-till practice has made central SD a grain producing powerhouse. We have learned to plant and produce in conditions that just 20 years ago would have been considered absurd. Who would have thought that we could grow a bushel of corn on 33% less Nitrogen than just 30 years ago thanks to better seed genetics and biotechnology? Are we at the top yet? NO WAY! We are just beginning to unlock the secrets of exactly when our crops need nutrients and how much at each stage. Our next challenge is to figure out ways to get those nutrients applied on time, but not too early so that they are lost to the environment.
If dramatic swings in weather is a forecast of the future, then crop insurance will play an even larger role in a farmers risk management portfolio. Crop Insurance is important to both farmers AND consumers alike, ensuring the safest and most reliable food supply in the world. Looking ahead to the next 35 years (2050) it will be important that consumers are educated as to why we farmers do what we do. How and when you apply nutrients should be an economic and environmental win/win for all sides in our symbiosis. A secure and safe food supply will be even more of a challenge as we move to support a 9 billion person world population. What works today may not be the best management practice of 10, 20, or even 30 years down the road. As our world changes so must our farming practices to keep ahead of demand.
I have the utmost confidence in the American farmer to adapt and meet those changing goals.
Image Credit: L. Braughler