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Changing Climate and Its Impact on Ag

02/18/2014 @ 7:56pm

Regardless of the cause of climate change, weather data shows that the climate is in fact changing. One climatologist who has studied weather patterns for years is Mark Seeley from the University of Minnesota. Rather than debate the cause, Seeley points to signs in the changing climate and their direct impact on agriculture and you as a producer.

Change Isn’t Universal

“There is a disparity in the pace of climate change,” says Seeley. In other words, weather trends aren’t universal across the states. There are more changes in the northern Great Plains than other parts of the country. Seeley reports specifically on changes in Minnesota, but his reports show what weather patterns mean for agriculture regardless of the location.

Weather Trends
For Minnesota, Seeley has identified three main weather trends.
1. General temperature trending upward, more specifically warmer winters and increasing minimum temperatures.

  • Changes in depth and duration of soil and lake freeze
  • More rapid breakdown of residue
  • Later fall nitrogen applications
  • Change in survival rate of pests, parasites, plant pathogens, and soil microbes
  • Change in Plant Hardiness Zones
  • Longer growing seasons

2. Higher frequency of dewpoints of 70 degrees and higher, which classifies them as tropical air masses. The most immediate consequence of this is that it inflates the heat index. In the past, old heat waves were temperature driven. Since the late 1970s, heat waves have been mainly dewpoint driven.

  • Seasonal dynamics of pathogens, parasites, insects, and microorganism populations
  • Increased workload in heat-related healthcare
  • Increased stress on livestock

3. Changes in precipitation quantity and character, specifically a general increase in precipitation and an increased frequency of extreme weather and heavy precipitation. This includes flash floods, tornados, thunderstorms, etc.

  • Mitigation of erosion
  • Altered irrigation, tile drainage, runoff, etc.
  • Impact on insurance
  • Change in sewer runoff design
  • Amplified flow means mitigation of flooding potential

“Climate patterns' quality and character are changing,” adds Seeley. “You have poor judgment in totally disregarding these changes because they impact what you should be doing.”

His takeaway message is to learn what’s happening in your backyard, not across the country or the world as a whole. Then take these changes into account and make appropriate adjustments to your operation.

What’s Seeley’s prediction for this planting season? Cool and wet. He’s relatively positive it will be cool, but the wetness could change depending on the region.

For more information and to see Seeley’s data, go to extension.umn.edu/environment/climate.

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