A report issued today by the 25x'25 Alliance offers recommendations that will enable the U.S. agriculture and forestry sectors to meet the challenges posed by increasingly variable and unpredictable weather.
"Agriculture and Forestry in a Changing Climate: Adaptation Recommendations" was compiled by the 25x'25 Adaptation Work Group, a collaboration of agriculture, forestry, business, academic, conservation and government leaders who have spent more than 18 months exploring the impacts of a changing climate and other variables on U.S. agriculture and forestry. Their work has focused on production systems, risk management, ecosystem services and communications.
The report notes that the impacts of changing weather patterns vary by region, but include higher temperatures; changing precipitation patterns; news threats from weeds, pests and diseases; increased humidity and stronger storms. However, the work group asserts that there are many options available to address this uncertainty while achieving their four overlapping goals of productivity, profitability, stewardship and self-determination.
"These are recommendations that mitigate risks posed by changes in our climate while strengthening production, cutting input costs and improving the quality of the land - even in the context of weather-related disasters like those experienced in 2011 and 2012," said Work Group Chairman Fred Yoder, a former president of the National Corn Growers Association, at a media conference launching the report this morning. "This document offers producers, foresters and policy makers various pathways in the areas of research, production systems, risk management, decision tools and outreach for building a more resilient ag and forestry system."
Among the recommendations is a call to support governmental, academic and private research designed to create more accurate climate forecasting and scenarios needed to inform producer decisions. The report also recommends the implementation of conservation practices designed to maintain the productive capacity of land and the adoption of new practices that address climate-related challenges.
Furthermore, the report calls for maintaining a robust federal crop insurance program and ensuring there are adequate relief programs available to producers for natural disasters. Policy makers and private businesses should also provide multiple avenues for funding adaptation measures, including low-interest, revolving loans.
New tools, such as smartphone applications, must be developed to take advantage of how producers will use and access information in the future, the work group says. And producer-to-producer dialogues must be conducted to connect producers in areas experiencing changing conditions with those already accustomed to addressing similar challenges. The report says there must be ongoing dialogue between scientists, policymakers, and agricultural organizations, and that producers and trade associations must be involved in research decisions and implementation.
"Adaptation is really nothing new to those of us who produce food, feed, fiber and fuel," said Ray Gaesser, an Iowa grain farmer and first vice president of the American Soybean Association. "Wet and dry seasons come and go. Producers have been making adjustments to meet the many challenges of an unpredictable Mother Nature. Yet recent years have demonstrated just how vulnerable our production system remains to changing weather."
"Last year, with its historic national drought, was one of the most expensive years for weather-related disasters in United States history," said Iowa State Climate Science Program Director Gene Takle. "As many scientists look ahead, these once occasional or rare events are expected to grow more common and more intense in many parts of the country. That throws into question whether 'business as usual' will suffice for the future of agriculture and forestry."
Chuck Rice, Kansas State University Distinguished Professor and professor of soil microbiology, said, "Adaptation strategies come in many different forms, but typically fall into three major categories: actions to increase resistance to changes in climate in order to maintain existing practices; actions to improve resilience by investing in steps that preempt disasters and restore systems in the wake of them; and actions to transform operations." The former president of the Soil Science Society of America said the Adaptation Work Group's recommendations "are designed to reflect this range of activities."
Yoder said the release of the report is only a single step in a continuing process, calling on all stakeholders to offer feedback "on the types of adaptation measures needed to enable our nation's producers to succeed in the context of a changing climate." He said that through 2014, 25x'25 will be supporting project outreach partners such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association and other producer groups by offering presentations, workshops, webinars and additional forums to generate dialogue and foster greater understanding within the agriculture and forestry sectors of climate change's impacts and the near term, high value and low-cost solutions that only farmers, ranchers, and foresters can deliver.
"The Adaptation Work Group believes that with forethought, leaders and the right priorities, our nation's agriculture and forestry systems cannot only meet future challenges, but thrive in the midst of them," Yoder said.
To access the report and learn more about how stakeholder groups can support and participate in our adaptation dialogue, go to www.25x25.org/adaptation.