Politicians may still be arguing about the reality and the impact of climate change and global warming, but Indiana farmers are already seeing it.
“That’s a hot topic now, especially with farmers, because they’ve got a lot of money invested,” said WANE TV Meteorologist Greg Shoup, who discusses it frequently with farm groups.
“I wish it would get out of … the political arena and get more into the science arena,” Shoup said. “It’s such a polarized topic that people don’t think about it as science. The reason I like talking to farmers about it is, they know already what the impacts are. They see it aleady. They’ve seen it in their crops.”
The research, Shoup said, is cutting edge, and the scientific evidence is compelling.
On March 1, the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment (IN CCIA), based at Purdue University, released a report on climate change in Indiana. It was the first of nine reports that will cover the impacts of climate change on agriculture, health, recreation, water resources, forest and urban ecosystems and other topics.
“Throughout Indiana, we’ve seen crops damaged or even destroyed by severe weather events and invasive species that thrive in warmer temperatures,” Jason Henderson, director of Purdue Extension and associate dean of agriculture, said in the announcement of the report’s release. “Data from this report will help Purdue Extension specialists and educators support farmers with research-based information that could help reduce risk through new crop-management strategies.”
The report calculates that Indiana’s average annual temperature has risen 1.2 degrees since 1895, averaging about 0.1 degree per decade. The temperature increase has accelerated significantly since 1960, averaging 0.4 degrees per decade.
The average annual temperature is expected to increase by 3 degrees by the 2020s, 5 to 6 degrees by mid-century, and by 6 to 10 degrees above the historical average by the end of the century.
If those warming trends continue, Shoup predicted, Indiana summers will be much dryer, and because there will be fewer clouds, temperatures will go up exponentially. Humidity will increase as southerly winds from the Gulf of Mexico move northward with nothing to stop them.
“There will be no relief from the heat, no weather systems moving across, the normal person will spend more on cooling costs, and not be able to spend as much quality time outside,” Shoup continued.
And what does that mean for farmers?
“In the next 25 years, if you don’t have irrigated fields, you probably won’t be in business anymore,” Shoup said.
Springs will be wetter, summers will be hotter and dryer and the window for planting each year may be shortened from a few weeks to a few days. Farmers might have to invest in new equipment that can plant more, faster.
While the growing season will be longer, but there won’t be enough water for crops unless the fields are irrigated, he added.
Farmers in Steuben County are “keeping on their toes,” alert to how they might have to diversify their crops or alter their farming methods in response to climate change, said Purdue Extension ag educator Crystal Van Pelt. Crop genetics could play a big role.
“We grow a lot of corn, soybeans and wheat,” Van Pelt said. “So what is the future of those crops and other crops? Will they still grow? Will there be different crops? Will they have to be more flood-tolerant or heat-tolerant?”
With a warmer climate, pests will become a greater problem, because they will be able to over-winter better, Van Pelt said. Winters won’t be long enough or cold enough to kill them off, so diseases like rust from Mexico will move further northward.
Insect activity also will increase. Already this year, because of the a relatively mild winter, “we’re trying to forecast how bad insects are going to be,” she noted. “We’re gearing up to expect the worst.”
The average global temperature also is increasing, the Purdue report noted. “From 1945 to 1979, there were no records set for hottest global average temperature. Record-setting temperatures have happened 12 times since, with 2014, 2015, and 2016 each breaking the record. The 2017 global average temperature ranked third-warmest, and that year marked the 41st in a row with above-average temperatures. If the climate were not warming, the chance of randomly having 41 above-average years in a row would be less than one in a trillion,” the report said.
Warming temperatures also bring more weather extremes: tornados, 500-year floods like the one just experienced by Goshen and the nor’easter storms slamming the Atlantic cost in the last week, Shoup said. And because climate change is global, what becomes extreme heat or drought in one locale could produce extreme cold and snow in another.
“I think the biggest thing is the public has to get out of the polarizing mentality, of thinking this is a political issue,” Shoup said. “Stop listening to the politicans and start listening to the scientists, because this is real.”