Like many other countries around the globe, the United States has experienced record-setting weather events this summer, with heat waves, severe storms, and the worst drought in decades. These weather extremes exemplify what climate scientists expect from climate change, and have already begun to observe in many parts of the world. Agriculture feels the impacts acutely - livestock producers rushing to cull their herds as pasture dries up, and corn and soybeans in Midwestern States expected to produce low yields.
And so it may seem perfectly timed that the USDA has released a study on climate change impacts on agriculture and opportunities for adaptation within the sector. The publication looks at regional impacts, noting the highest losses occur in the Corn Belt. It models the impacts of climate change on agriculture under different adaptation regimes, such as shifts in crop rotations, tillage practices, and changing land use. However, the analysis was unable to include considerations for extreme weather events, such as those currently taking place, or expanded needs for irrigation, particularly in the Western States.
While the report recommends targeting crop breeding efforts for better adapted varieties, there are many more adaptive measures that could have been considered in the discussion of how to ‘climate-proof’ agriculture. Adopting a climate-smart landscape approach – incorporating trees into farms, adopting water capture technologies, inter-cropping, and integrating livestock and crop systems, among other elements – could increase resilience to climatic stresses, while simultaneously achieving other benefits like building soil organic matter and storing carbon. As the impacts of climate change become more common, perhaps integrated approaches will play a more significant role in addressing these complex challenges.