Climate and Agriculture: Finite Resources

Temperatures are on the rise, and growers are looking for innovative crop protection solutions.

What does the USDA have in common with the United Nations, International Food Policy Research Institute, and the EPA? They—along with thousands of other government, scientific and academic institutions worldwide—believe that climate change is the biggest threat to our planet's ability to feed itself in the future. According to the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), climate changes due to our continued generation of greenhouse gases are already affecting U.S. agriculture, water resources, land resources, and biodiversity. The EPA concurs: "Human activity has already changed atmospheric characteristics such as temperature, rainfall, levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and ground level ozone." And the USDA, in its Climate Change Science Plan, warns that "Climate change has the potential to disrupt USDA efforts to…help rural America thrive; to promote agriculture production sustainability that better nourishes Americans while also helping to feed others throughout the world..."

Climate change is causing wide fluctuations in the amount and geographical patterns of rainfall, runoff, soil erosion, evaporation, and soil moisture—all of which affects crop development, flow-ering and harvesting.

The Geography of Rainfall

Precipitation is changing in North America. Global warming is causing wide fluctuations in the amount and geographical patterns of rainfall, runoff, soil erosion, evaporation, and soil moisture—all of which affects crop development, flowering and harvesting. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization, predicts that precipitation will increase in high latitudes, and decrease in most subtropical land regions—some by as much as about 20 percent. While regional precipitation will vary, the number of extreme precipitation events is predicted to increase.

A Hotter Climate

Rising temperatures are also a problem. Climate change affects both average temperatures and temperature extremes. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, D.C., writes, "Higher temperatures eventually reduce yields of desirable crops while encouraging weed and pest proliferation. Changes in precipitation patterns increase the likelihood of short-run crop failures and long-run production declines. Although there will be gains in some crops in some regions of the world, the overall impacts of climate change on agriculture are expected to be negative, threatening global food security."

Degraded Soils

Extreme weather events and severe storms can exacerbate soil degradation. Excessive water and wind erosion remove fertile surface soils, rich in organic matter and plant nutrients. Over time, water lost as runoff eventually reduces the soil's available water capacity. Naturally, this, too, takes a toll on crop growth and yield.

Randy Myers, PH.D.Changes in precipitation patterns increase the likelihood of short-run crop failures and long-run production declines.


The Race for Solutions

The interplay of climate and agriculture is one of the forces shaping the future of American farming. Its long-range implications are clear: we must find more effective ways to manage finite resources, such as water availability and soil quality.

Stress Shield, an active ingredient in Leverage 360 insecticide, promotes the photosynthetic process in plants, helping them tolerate the environmental stresses that threaten growth.Bayer is approaching climate change from a plant point of view—using plant biotechnology techniques to help reduce the impact of climatic and environmental stress on crops. A good example is Stress Shield™, a formulation that works to enhance the ability of plants to withstand abiotic stresses, such as drought, heat, excessive salinity and temperature extremes. Leverage® 360 insecticide is a leading Crop Science product that includes Stress Shield. When soybean crops are treated with Leverage 360, they are defended not only against biotic threats such as soybean aphids, but also against the climatic stresses that are increasingly unpredictable.

Likewise, certain FiberMax cotton seed varieties offer excellent water-use efficiency and storm tolerance, while others are well-suited to dryland growing regions. Solutions like these promise to make the shifting relationship between climate and agriculture less antagonistic, and to generate healthier harvests for growers everywhere. Discuss how to find the right varieties and crop protection products for your fields with your local Crop Science US representative or agronomist.

Works Cited

  • "Agriculture and Food Supply." Climate Change - Health and Environmental Effects. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Web. 22 June 2011. "The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States." Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3. U.S. Climate Change Science Program. Web. 22 June 2011.
  • Nelson & Others, Gerald C. "Climate Change Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation." International Food Policy Research Institute. Web. 22 June 2011.
  • Pretty & Others, Jules. "The Top 100 Questions of Importance to the Future of Global Agriculture." INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY 8(4) 2010. Web. 22 June 2011.
  • "USDA Climate Change Science Plan." Office of the Chief Economist, USDA, n.d. Web. 23 June 2011. www.usda.gov/

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