New Information on Agriculture and Climate Change

Michael Cameron

By now many farmers have likely heard that work patterns are expected to shift in the not so distant future due to climate change. Basically, this means that planting and harvesting times will have to change drastically due to fluctuations in moisture and heat. As if this is not frightening enough, now researchers are saying that it seems as if we have underestimated the amount of emissions from soils.

According to recent studies, if the industry is to continue feeding the current 7 billion people on earth without continuing to do further damage to the climate, agriculture adjustments and climate change need to happen together.

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one paper revealed that the emissions from soils as a result of land use changes from planting crops and grazing livestock have caused the equivalent of 13 years of global emissions. At least half of that has probably occurred in the last few centuries. Soil expert Thomas Crowther notes that, “In this study, the authors do a really good job of quantifying how humans have altered the Earth’s surface soil carbon stocks through extensive agriculture, with direct implications for atmospheric CO2 concentrations and the climate.”

Farmers are still digesting reports that came out earlier this year about field working days. The University of Illinois concluded that as a result of wetter springs and drier summers; the number of days that farmers can work the fields, as well as when they can use them, needs to change.

“Everything else flows from field working days,” says University of Illinois ecologist, Adam Davis. The new model that Davis and his team have developed suggests that the current planting window for corn, in the near future, will no longer be the optimal. For example, in most parts of Illinois, April and May will be far too wet to work the fields.

The University of Illinois study suggests three different strategies to deal with the pending reality, including planting early with long-season cultivars; farmers choosing shorter-season cultivars, planting early and then harvesting before the droughts that occur during the summer months and finally; “Create cropping systems that can deal with increased volatility by conserving soil moisture.”
With so many moving parts in such a dynamic system, there’s no doubt that future research will continue to reveal a shifting reality with a combination of solutions required to create a more environment-friendly agriculture industry; one that can continue feeding our growing population.