Let’s be clear: This is not a debate about climate change, human interaction with climate or any other argument of that nature. Instead, it’s a look at what’s changing and what you may have to do about it.
This came up recently when I was out for a run and heard a report from a scientist who wants to move beyond the “mitigation” conversation about climate, and discuss the need to “adapt.” It’s a notion that’s more valuable as a conversation than debating methods for stopping greenhouse gases, though farmers could have a big role in that with carbon sequestration.
Yet the concept got me thinking about adaptation. Weather is changing, no matter what the cause. Just ask a farmer in eastern Nebraska, or a producer near any forest in California. We’re seeing more devastating events — but there are small changes, too.
Growth zones are moving north, and piling on is work by plant breeders to get those seeds to be more productive. The West isn’t known for soybeans, but neither were the Dakotas 20 years ago. Yet today, they’re growing productive Group 0 soybeans farther north than you can imagine.
The challenge of this warmer weather, and changing precipitation patterns, goes beyond the floods, hurricanes and fires. The adaptation you may face in the future will also bring opportunities and challenges.
What will you grow?
Many producers in the future may be faced with the question of what to plant. This will be affected as much by economics as weather. Wheat as a crop has already diminished in the West; though it retains a solid foothold in the region as a rotational crop, it’s less valuable than it once was.
That’s due in part to the “gluten-free” craze, but also to the fact that wheat breeding — while progressing — has faced challenges, too. We’re closer to hybrid wheat — again — and that may make a difference, but then the economics have to be right.
Another factor that may pop up is that these warmer, wetter days or nights are building new habitat for insects and diseases that thrive and dine on your crops. Western potato growers are no strangers to disease, but if weather warms further and there are wetter days, just keeping late blight in check will be a bigger challenge.
Should you look at other crops that can make a difference? That, of course, depends on the market for those crops for the future.
What this conversation will be about is something that’s popped up more often lately. No part of farming or ranching has an “easy button,” but these days it appears everything is harder. Even the commonsense crop rotations of the past could fall away. That would mean more strategic planning than ever before. Yet, I’m hopeful — provided prices ever improve — that farmers and ranchers can take hold of those opportunities.
Farming is getting more difficult, and while there are technologies that aim to make things easier, from machine learning for image analysis to smarter equipment, the gray matter between your ears is still key. And adopting an “adapt” mindset could offer opportunities. It couldn’t hurt.
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