April 26, 2015

USDA boss says not all climate change impacts are bad

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

Farmers and scientists are trying to determine how climate change will impact agriculture in Nebraska and nationwide in the years ahead, with one study predicting without action, crop yields will drop 20% by mid-century.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says farmers will have to adapt to greater variability in the weather, but the news isn’t all bad.

“On the one hand, we’re likely going to see longer growing seasons, which could potentially give rise to increased crop productivity,” Vilsack says, “but on the other hand, we’re also likely going to experience more extreme weather events, additional and more significant pest and disease risks, all of which could substantially reduce crop production.”

The USDA has recently created several “climate hubs” for research — one of which focuses on the Midwest.

“We’ll be doing an assessment of the vulnerabilities from weather variability and climate change in terms of agriculture and forestry and then creating an opportunity for us to work with the university extension and others to discuss ways in which we might be able to adapt,” Vilsack said.

Farmers are already adapting, he says, by embracing voluntary programs to reduce farm chemical and manure run-off.

“We’ve recently done a series of assessments in the Upper Mississippi River Basin, in the Chesapeake Bay area specifically that show and indicate that voluntary conservation is reducing nitrogen and phosphorus intake into our rivers and streams and reducing the rate of soil erosion,” Vilsack said.

The recent situation in Toledo, Ohio, has sparked more debate about restrictions on agricultural run-off into lakes and streams. Toledo residents were advised not to use the city’s drinking water for three days because of toxins in the water. The toxins came from algae bloom in Lake Erie caused by phosphorus run-off from fertilized fields and livestock operations as well as septic tank systems in the area that are leaking.

Thanks to Ken Anderson of the Brownfield Network