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Thriving in a harsh climate

DANIEL LOOKER 04/02/2013 @ 1:42pm Business Editor

Ray Gaesser started using no till on his southwest Iowa farm in the early 1980s. That, combined with terraces, assured that "we had virtually no erosion," he said Tuesday. Then around 2010, his farm started getting hit with downpours of 8 inches or rain or more in a day. "It was more than most practices could handle."

So, like many farmers, Gaesser has been testing cover crops to hold that soil in place and manage moisture and nutrients. Even in last year's drought, he managed to get a good stand of rye grass growing between harvested rows of corn. It was seeded by air in August, just before a good rain.

It turns out that Gaesser is adapting to climate change, whether he might have called it that or not. The weather in the Corn Belt is seeing more extremes of both too much and too little rain as the earth's temperature rises, according to Gene Takle, director of the Iowa State University Climate Science Program.

Gaesser, who is first vice president of the American Soybean Association, said he'd like to see even more public and private research on what else farmers can do to thrive in a changing climate. That research, targeted to the practical local needs of farmers and ranchers, is a top priority for Chuck Rice, a Kansas State University soil microbiologist who is past president of the Soil Science Society of America.

All three, along with Fred Yoder, an Ohio farmer who is past president of the National Corn Growers Association, joined Tuesday in rolling out a national plan to help agriculture and forestry adapt to climate change. They plan is sponsored by the 25x'25 Alliance, a broad-based group that wants to see 25% of the nation's energy needs coming from renewables by 2025.

The group is confident that farming and forestry can still meet that goal, but a changing climate is a challenge. "Our key in the future is going to be soil health," Yoder told one listener during a web-based roll out of the group's newest report: "Agriculture and Forestry in a Changing Climate: Adaptation Recommendations"

The five main ideas the group plans to carry to farm groups across the nation include, as summarized by the Iowa Soybean Association, are:

  • Research. Provide support for more accurate climate forecasting, examine barriers facing farmers and develop new crop management tools, among other things.

  • Production Systems and Practices. Implement conservation practices to main productive land, adopt new production practices to address climate change, develop additional value for ecosystem services and build new and upgrade existing infrastructure to meet climate challenges.

  • Risk Management. Maintain a robust federal crop insurance program, ensure there are adequate disaster relief programs and provide multiple avenues for funding adaptation measures.

  • Planning and Decision Support Tools. A few recommendations include develop new tools to allow producers to use and access information in the future, incorporate climate change information and data into existing tools and become involved in local- and watershed-level planning with all relevant stakeholders.

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