Crop Comments: Climate change, climate cycle or both?

Two significant climate-related events are drawing a lot of my attention. The first one was an on-farm seminar which was written up in last week’s Country Folks. Elizabeth Tomlin wrote the article titled “Climate Smart Farming encouraged at twilight meeting”. The seminar was held last month at the Mosher Farm in Bouckville, NY. Lead speakers included Tyler Brewer from the Cornell University Department of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences, and Dr. Allison Chatrchyan, Director of Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions. Before I tap into the wisdom of these two academics, let me mention the second climate-related event: namely Hurricane Florence, who, as I write on Tuesday evening, is gearing up to slam into the Carolinas with whatever fury can be mustered by a category 4 hurricane.

According to Brewer, “Climate Smart Farming is increasing farm resiliency to extreme weather events, climate variability and change through assessing risk and adopting best management practices.” He also stated that downpours and heavy rainfall events have increased more than 71 percent in the Northeast. This results in delayed planting in the spring and crops lost to weather in the fall. Moreover, that heavy rains are expected to increase in intensity and storms are predicted to increase in size in coming months. Additional developments associated with global warming include increases in plant and animal diseases, as well as pests like alfalfa weevil. (And I might add, ticks.) Another facet of climate change will be more precipitation taking place in heavy rainfall events, with more than two inches in 48 hours. An extreme example of this — that I recently learned about — could be what happened last month in parts of southwest Wisconsin, where 20 inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period!

Chatrchyan described various adaptations that may be introduced on farms in order to roll with the punches thrown our way by new climate scenarios. She said that many farmers have reported that they have already made changes to “accommodate changing weather, including infrastructure changes.” She believes that climate smart adaptations can improve the farmer’s bottom line while increasing productivity. Some such changes gaining wider acceptance are cover crops, no-till planting, and improved barn ventilation.

Other scientists weigh in on climate issues — for instance, Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. According to this German, “These (records) are very worrying signs and I think it shows we are on a crash course with the Paris (Climate Accord) targets unless we change course very, very fast. I hope people realise (sic) that global warming is not something down the road, but it is here now and is affecting us now.” (He refers to a conference in December 2015, when the world’s nations sealed a deal in Paris, France to defeat global warming.) Rahmstorf said, “What is happening right now is we are catapulting ourselves out of the Holocene, which is the geological epoch that human civilisation (sic) has been able to develop in, because of the relatively stable climate. It allowed us to invent agriculture, rather than living as nomads. It allowed a big population growth, it allowed the foundation of cities, all of which required a stable climate.”

On the same page as the other scientists, we find Professor Michael Mann, at Penn State University. According to Mann, “The impacts of human-caused climate change are no longer subtle — they are playing out, in real time, before us. They serve as a constant reminder now of how critical it is that we engage in the actions necessary to avert ever-more dangerous and potentially irreversible warming of the planet.” Mann also said the global heat build-up has already had major impacts, including a record temperature of 124 degrees Fahrenheit in India and a serious drought and a record warm autumn in Australia (during April through June 2016). “It is in my view highly unlikely that we would be seeing record drought, like we’re seeing in California, record flooding in Texas, unprecedented wildfires in western North America, and the strongest recorded hurricanes in both the northern and southern hemisphere were it not for the impact of human-caused global warming,” says Mann.

Let me quote Rahmstorf one more time: “Thermometer records go back to 1880, but ice cores, tree rings and corals show global warming driven by humanity’s burning of fossil fuels and forests has left the planet at its hottest for at least 5,000 years. If we are not above this (temperature) already, we will be in 10 or 20 years’ time and then you have to go back 120,000 years to find higher temperatures than present.” He further states that another shattered record is the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is on course to set a record this year, surpassing the symbolic landmark of 400 parts per million. Moreover, that Antarctic ice cores that go back almost a million years show us that CO2 was never even remotely as high as this. Furthermore, there may be more to the record-breaking series than meets the eye. “There is something more going on than the usual global warming trend and El Niño, because in the past El Niño has led to single years breaking records, but it has not caused several years in a row to break records.”

All four scientists perhaps hinted at — but didn’t openly state — one big cause of global warming. That is the reduction of organic matter (OM) in U.S. cropland, arguably a greater issue than lost OM on the rest of the planet’s cropland. The lower the OM level in the nation’s summer annual cropland (non-sod, basically corn and soybean), the lower the amount of carbon sequestered in our soils and plant biomass. Less carbon in these two points of sequestration means that much more is in the atmosphere as green-house gases. Reduced soil OM and reduced plant biomass also lower evaporative cooling capability.

2018-09-14T15:13:29+00:00September 14th, 2018|Eastern Edition, Western Edition|0 Comments

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