By Georgine Yorgey Reprinted from: WSU CSANR Perspectives on Sustainability As this hot, dry summer winds down across Washington State, many areas are continuing to struggle with the impacts of drought. (Those who would like a recap of August weather and drought conditions can see the WSU Drought Report.) Unfortunately, while the weather has become […]
I was at a Climate Convening yesterday in a small city in Southern Minnesota (Owatonna). I was invited to facilitate a small group discussion on agriculture and climate change. I was talking with one of the conference organizers before the meeting about agriculture and climate change and she came up with the line that agriculture is victim, contributor, and solver when it comes to climate change. I think it describes the situation well.
Victim: Victim is easy to see. There is no doubt about the connection between agriculture and climate. Changes in climate will impact agriculture. Fires in the western US impacting rangeland and cattle production is one current and obvious example. At the meeting Dr. Mark Seeley, a climatologist at the University of Minnesota, did a short keynote presentation on climate trends in Minnesota. Here in the Midwest there are some very clear statistically significant climate trends in temperatures, dew points and precipitation. He offered a clear statement on the impacts of these changes. He said “our design and management of resources and infrastructure is predicated on historic climate conditions (averages and extremes) and we are quickly moving outside of those design and management criteria.” He offered this in reference to how we design buildings (including livestock buildings) roads, sewer systems, runoff control, etc.. Agricultural production is indeed vulnerable to climate change.
Contributor: In a past blog post I reported on animal agriculture’s very real contributions to GHG concentrations in the atmosphere. We know about methane from ruminants and manure storages, nitrous oxide from soils, and CO2 from various sources agricultural sources. Yes, in return agriculture supplies food to the world. One twist on the conversation at the meeting was a discussion about local and regional climate impacts of corn production on our landscape. Soil erosion with row crops is one thing but also the impact of irrigation and evapotranspiration on local and regional dew points. The exact contribution of this landscape change is challenging to study but, as per Dr. Seeley, is a very relevant topic being discussed among climate scientists.
Solver: There is also a clear picture emerging of how agriculture can be a bigger part of the solution. Primarily through healthier soils sequestering more carbon and helping with water retention through cover crops, rotational grazing, conservation tillage, etc. In my small group discussion the topic of regenerative agriculture was brought up as more integrated approach to agriculture that may be more resilient to climate changes and result in less environmental impacts. The suggestion was that the economics of these alternative agricultural systems is currently challenging but would become more favorable if agricultural policy began placing greater emphasis on reducing carbon emissions, soil loss, and nitrogen pollution.
All good stuff to think about!
Always Considering Climate– David
– David Schmidt MS. PE is a researcher and educator in the Department of Bioproducts and Bioysystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota and regional project coordinator for the project Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate, a national project of the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center and funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
As a PhD student with CSANR interested in improving communication about climate and agriculture between the academic and decision-making spheres, I’ve had a lot of conversations about climate models with agricultural producers, industry representatives, policy makers and regulatory officials (as well as with modelers themselves!). In the course of those conversations it has become clear that accessible explanations of how climate models are developed and how the results from climate change projections ought to be interpreted are lacking.
A team of us affiliated with WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources and the BioEarth research project set out to create a guide to climate modeling intended for agricultural and natural resource decision makers in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Using examples from the 2011 Columbia River Basin Long-Term Water Supply and Demand Forecast, we describe:
What process-based models are
How global climate change projections are downscaled and applied in regional climate impacts analyses
The importance of understanding scale
How uncertainty is handled and communicated in model outputs
Applications of results from process-based models
This concise overview guide is the product of collaboration between modelers who specialize in agricultural, hydrological and economic systems and science communicators. We hope this will be a valuable reference resource to a wide range of people interested in understanding and using climate models. So go grab yourself a cup of coffee, give it a read and let us know what you think and what questions you have.