Climate Change Impacts and Mitigation Strategies for Growers
No one knows the importance of water conservation in agriculture better than growers and farmers, especially those who’ve already invested in smart irrigation systems. However, we can’t talk about water sustainability without talking about the elephant in the room: climate change.
Environmental challenges due to climate change are now common across the U.S., and farmers are being forced to deal with the threats. In fact, a Stanford University study discovered that between 1991 and 2017, around $27 billion in insurance payments to farmers was attributed to climate-related temperature increases.
Let’s take a look at six different ways climate change directly impacts farmers and growers, and what you can do to help mitigate and prepare for them.
Scientists have predicted that increasing changes in the climate will result in longer and more intense weather cycles. Basically, wet seasons will bring more rain for longer than historically usual, and dry seasons will bring more extreme heat and extended droughts.
Either of these scenarios can be good to some extent for crops; for example, rain can help increase the growing season. But prolonged exposure to the elements can reduce your crop yield or destroy it all together. The reasoning here is simple: plants can die from too much water, too much heat, or any related side effect of the two (rot, fungi/viral growth, scorched leaves, prohibited growth, etc.).
Farmers and growers can help ensure their crop yields stay high by following risk-reduction strategies such as forecasting climate impacts, practicing soil and water conservation, and choosing what type(s) of crops to grow or rotate out.
Speaking of crop choice, climate change also impacts farmers and growers when it comes to crop viability. You should always aim to have your harvested crops command a value greater than the cost to harvest them.
Unfortunately, fluctuating weather due to climate change means that not all crops traditionally grown in an area will be as valuable as they used to be. Farmers and growers may find it more difficult to not only grow quality yields of these crops, but also earn a return on investment from them.
As such, take a good look at your crop of choice and compare it to the growing patterns and weather changes in your region. Is it even the right kind of plant to grow anymore? Are you actually getting value out of this crop, or could you get more value out of another plant that will better withstand the changing weather patterns in your area?
As farmers and growers deal with crop yields and viability, you also have to pay attention to the nutritional quality of these plants. After all, almost everything you’re growing will be turned into some sort of feed, produce, or food product.
Climate change is reducing the nutritional quality of plants through increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For example, proteins and essential minerals fall short in plants like wheat, soybeans, and rice when there’s too much CO2 in the air. Additionally, increased rainfall can erode soil and reduce nutrients even further.
You can hedge your bets against climate impacts on nutritional quality by ensuring you’re growing the right kind of crop(s) for your soil, using fortified fertilizers, or participating in plant breeding or bioengineering practices to produce more resilient, more nutritional yields.
Pests, Weeds, and Diseases
It’s no surprise that with climate change and unpredictable weather conditions comes other side effects growers will have to deal with. As regional environments change over time, they’ll have to watch out for invasive pests, weeds, and diseases new to their area.
Increased bouts of rain or drought will introduce these three problems to areas that previously didn’t have to manage them, or at least not at the same scale. For example, an insect from the arid southwest may find that a future, drier Missouri is where it wants to make its next home.
However, by adopting new farming practices or crop varieties, these threats to crops can be reduced. Or, you could ensure your land is less affected by redesigning it into a holistic ecosystem that involves trees, plants, and insects that can help fight off or mitigate the effects of invasive species.
In a similar vein to pests and weeds, natural disasters on a larger scale can also severely threaten the livelihood of farmers and growers across the U.S. Some of these threats include flooding, wildfires, and droughts.
Increased weather volatility brings with it more natural disasters, many of which can destroy crops, equipment, homes, land, and more. Think of harsher tornado seasons in the midwest that can wipe out fields of corn, or wildfires that can destroy an entire coastal vineyard in just a few short days.
Unfortunately, farmers and growers can only do so much to prepare for such disasters. However, certain steps can be taken for inclement weather likely to occur in your area; for example, if your region is prone to flooding, plant more trees around your land or preserve riparian areas to help reduce flooding impacts on your crops.
Physical, Mental, and Social Health
An often overlooked way that climate change affects farmers and growers is the toll it takes on them as human beings. But the physical and mental health of agricultural workers, as well as their local communities, is an important aspect of climate change and the future stability of our entire food supply.
In terms of physical health, agricultural workers will have to deal with more extreme heat, humidity, and poorer air quality the worse global warming becomes. The stress of farming in harsher conditions will also affect their mental health, while rural agricultural communities will be disproportionately affected by climate change and risk seeing their societies (and our food systems as a whole) break down.
Generally, farmers and growers can take small steps to address the physical concerns of climate change on workers, such as providing proper shade, water, and ventilation. You can also advocate for mental health services and financial support for your local agricultural communities to help build resilience against the effects of climate change.
Overall, farmers and growers like you are some of the people most impacted by climate change. The threats to your livelihood are real, and extend beyond just water conservation in agriculture – even beyond the issues we covered here (for example, we didn’t even talk about concerns like pollution or decreased pollination).
That being said, we know you’re also some of the most resilient people around. You love what you do, and you’re already taking steps to ensure your future livelihood is as secure as possible. By following as many of the mitigation steps above as possible, you can be more prepared for the world to come.