Report: Climate change presents big challenges for ag

One of the lead authors of a new University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) report on climate change says Nebraska farmers and ranchers will face significant weather-related challenges in the coming decades.

UNL climate scientist Don Wilhite says average temperatures will continue to rise–as much as nine degrees in a worst-case scenario–with a substantial increase in high-temperature “stress days” over 100 degrees.  Although average annual precipitation may not change much, Wilhlite severe storms and floods will be more common.

“When you have high-intensity events, this means you’re going to get more runoff and less soil infiltration,” Wilhite says. “So with the increasing temperatures, you’re looking at declines in the future in soil moisture content, which is obviously important to agriculture.”

Wilhite says that while agriculture has been able to adapt to recent changes in climate, increased innovation will be needed to keep pace with the rapid changes that are coming.

“The amount of change that’s going to occur in the future is outside of the range of what farmers have experienced in the past,” Wilhite says. “So in order for them to adapt to this additional change—more change—that’s being projected, they’re going to require more innovative techniques, more technologies, and so on.

“The sooner they sort of adapt to this situation and incorporate these changes in their management strategies, the more effective they’re going to be.”

Wilhite says there is no question that “human activities” are the main contributor to the intensity and rapidity of the current climate change event.  “The big cause is the rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions in increasing concentrations,” he says.

Wilhite is a professor in the School of Natural Resources at UNL.

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