Report: Climate change to challenge farmers

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

Indiana agriculture will likely look different in the coming decades.

A recent Purdue University report using information from the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment said that increasing temperatures, precipitation changes and rising carbon dioxide levels in the air will change the health of livestock and poultry; growing season conditions for crops, soil and water quality; and even the types of crops that can be planted. The climate changes could have a profound effect on Indiana’s economy as farming accounts for 5 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.

“It’s on our mind, but I don’t know how much you can do to prepare for it,” said Daniel Buechler, a grain and hog farmer with land near the Dubois County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Buechler began farming in 1978. For his generation, he said, he doesn’t think the climate changes will be a huge issue. It’s the next generation of farmers who will struggle with it.

The study supports Buechler’s timeline, estimating that Indiana temperatures will rise by 5 to 6 degrees, which will take a toll on corn and soybean yields. The higher temperatures increase plant respiration, the report said, which reduces the sugars available for grain production and affects pollination.

Current observations show that a 1 degree increase in overnight temperatures in July reduce corn yields by 2 percent. As temperatures continue to rise, the study said, more frequent heat stress and water deficits will lead to a 16 to 20 percent drop in corn yields by mid-century. Soybean yields are also expected to drop up to 11 percent.

The study also projects heavy rainfall in the spring as the climate changes, which will lead to a shorter planting season, following an already established 30-year trend.

“The growing season will change,” Buechler said. “And maybe the areas where we grow.”
To combat the decrease in yield and changes to the growing season, the study suggested changing cropping systems, planting dates and crop genetics, improving soil health and adding additional irrigation and drainage.

The temperature increase will also take a toll on livestock industries. Heat stress in livestock leads to reduced feed intake, productivity and fertility, the study said. The study projected days with temperatures above 86 degrees, which the study calls “a critical threshold for livestock heat stress,” to double in frequency from 40 to 80 or 100 days per year by mid-century. The higher temperatures will put stress on farmers as they struggle to keep livestock cool.

Keeping livestock cool is nothing new, Buechler said. Every summer, he uses misters and fans too keep his hogs cool. But the hotter it gets, the more misters and fans are needed, and it seems to Buechler that there have been more extremely hot days in recent years.

The study pointed out that the agriculture industry is highly susceptible to weather and climate changes and cited several recent extreme weather events in the state that destroyed crops. In 2012, the study said, drought and extreme heat reduced Indiana corn yields 64 bushels per acre below the long-term trend, leading to more than $1 billion in crop insurance payments to Hoosier farmers. Farmers again suffered losses in 2015 when excess water from heavy rainfall in June 2015 destroyed 5 percent of Indiana’s corn and soybean crops, leading to $300 million in losses.

“We’ve had extreme weather events before,” Buechler said. “But it seems like we’re seeing more of it today than we used to.”




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