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Trumped by Climate

soil-300x273OK. I just had to get the T-word in there as it seems to boost ratings. Sorry.

However, the statement “Trumped by Climate” is true. Think card game not politics.

Not a day goes by with a news story about extreme or unexpected weather impacting farmers somewhere in the world. Here are some stories on Flooding, snow, cold temperatures, drought, in the last six months impacting farmers around the world. No matter how we plan, there are some things that are out of our control. This latest news about global temps is not any more encouraging:  “February Smashes Earth’s All-Time Global Heat Record by a Jaw-Dropping Margin.”

I attended a workshop a couple of weeks ago regarding adaptation planning for agriculture (not just animal agriculture). The event was sponsored by the Midwest Climate Hub and the USDA Climate Change Program Office.

In keeping with the political theme of this post, I thought I would start with some sound bites I took from the meeting.

  • Adaptation could be called “Climate Informed” decision making.
  • bout 85% of farm decisions could be considered “adaptation.”
  • Soils 1st. Adaptation 2nd. (Soil health is critical!!)
  • Adaptation discussions with crop farmers is easier than with livestock producers because the climate impacts on crops and soils is much more immediate and obvious.
  • National Corn Yield Contest has always been won by farmers practicing no-till.
  • Crops: 20% Yield Gap (Attainable vs Actual). 80% of this gap is caused by short term stresses that can be controlled.

The meeting focus was testing a new adaptation planning guide that was based on the Adaptation Workbook for Forest Management.

Briefly, the fives steps in planning are 1) Defining long term management goals and objectives for the farm 2) Assessing vulnerabilities to meeting these business goals, 3) Evaluating a range of options to reducing these vulnerabilities, 4) Identifying specific adaptation approaches and 5) Monitoring the effectiveness of the actions implemented.

What was most evident from the workshop was that any climate adaptation planning is not a stand alone activity, but rather an overlay for farm planning. Farmers and farm consultants of any kind (e.g. crop, equipment, nutrition, veterinarian, engineers) must be versed in the trends in weather and climate and aware of potential vulnerabilities. They must add this additional layer of information to any farm planning and decisions being made. For instance, sizing a ventilation system for a poultry facility is complex process that requires lots of information. However, this design must now include our best estimate of future temperature extremes.

Certainly, we cannot hope to prepare for all weather extremes, but we can farm in a way that is more tolerant of a slightly wider variety of weather conditions.

Always Considering Climate — David

David Schmidt MS. PE is a researcher and educator in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems 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.

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