Noticing our changing climate and weather patterns is one thing. Understanding the science, how it affects your farm and adjusting business strategies to manage these changes requires deeper investigation.
That’s where experts like Aaron Wilson can help. Wilson is a climate specialist with The Ohio State University Extension who enjoys sharing his knowledge with people across urban and rural landscapes to help them think about the personal effects of climate change.
In Ohio, the impact is striking. Due to increased precipitation, five suitable field days have been lost in both April and October. This means planting, applying fertilizer and harvesting in shorter and shorter windows. Unfortunately, it’s a trend that will continue to affect production.
“Our best scientific evidence suggests a 10% increase in annual precipitation by mid-century with a 65-85% increase in the number of extreme precipitation events,” said Wilson, who encourages people to get to know the difference between weather and climate for a better understanding of how predictions are made.
Weather includes elements like temperature, pressure, moisture and wind that change very rapidly. Climate involves all the energy exchanged across Earth’s systems averaged over a specific period of time.
“A good analogy for this is a dog owner walking a dog. While the dog is driven by natural tendencies and often meanders around its owner, the two generally walk the same path,” explained Wilson. “If we think of the dog as weather and the owner as climate, it’s easier to understand how we can predict where they both end up despite the fact that the dog is much more erratic.”
With that in mind, here are four tips to help farmers navigate a few of the challenges ahead:
- Anticipate more water.
Farmers need to evaluate their assets from a water management perspective. Annual precipitation and its intensity have increased and will continue to do so, but not necessarily when farmers can use it. Finding holistic ways to manage water resources from deluge to drought will be key since Wilson expects growers will experience both within a single growing season.
- Use new technology.
Innovation will be key to capturing excess water and storing it for drought. Researching and adopting new technology from planter size and autonomy to application of nutrients and selecting hybrid seeds will help navigate the peaks and valleys.
- Improve soil health for resilience.
Some already practice no till and plant cover crops for their environmental benefits. As it turns out, healthier soils and robust root systems are also a win for dealing with climate change. Strong roots and high organic matter improve the soil’s ability to store water and control erosion during extreme downpours. While it can’t stop all the damage from storms when 5.5” of rain falls in two hours, it does provide more resilience.
- Take advantage of new opportunities.
Evidence demonstrates temperatures across the Corn Belt are warming twice as fast in winter compared to summer. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Ohio and the Midwest have experienced an increase average of 9 to 10 more frost-free days. While this trend is alarming, it also provides new opportunities like double cropping and planting crops that haven’t been traditionally been grown here in the past.