Farmers in Iowa and around the Midwest, in recent years, have experienced both the up and down sides to climate change. Gene Takle, a climatologist at Iowa State University, says the positives include warmer springs and more humid summers.
“Plant breeders have attributed at least one bushel per acre, per year yield increases to better, more favorable climate,” Takle said. “Our growing season is longer and we have more soil moisture so we can plant higher densities.” While climate change has help boost yields in the Midwest, it’s also produced more extreme and unpredictable weather – such as intense rainstorms, especially in the spring.
I.S.U. soil scientist Matt Helmers says those pounding rains can wash away both soil and fertilizer that crops need to grow.
“During the spring of the year, there’s not much crop canopy and soils can be susceptible,” Helmers said. Takle says climate change has also created additional challenges for fighting pests and diseases.
He notes, over the last 30 years, moisture in the air in Iowa and across the region has increased 13%. “Nights are more humid and it means that we have dew on crops longer; it comes earlier in the evening, and it lasts longer in morning, so that (creates) more favorable conditions for pests and pathogens, molds, fungus, toxins and so on,” Takle said.
I.S.U. entomologist Matt O’Neal says insects are finding new, far away homes because the warm weather currents transport the insects more effectively. He says many insects find food and homes by flying straight up. “And then they get sucked into weather patterns…currents that pull them up into the atmosphere, get them into the jet stream, and then use that to get them far, far away, and then they literally get rained out of sky,” O’Neal said.
“So, this migration over great distances can be facilitated by weather events.” Farmers will adapt to climate change, Takle says, just like they have to new pests, markets and rising prices.
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