A number of new climate change reports have been published in the last couple of weeks.
First was the National Climate Assessment, coming by way of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The wide-ranging, 700-plus-page report looks at climate change’s impact on the United States at present and forecasts its future impact.
The second recent report, published on Tuesday from the Corporation Military Advisory Board, highlights the potential international security ramifications of climate change. “National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change” states that “the projected impacts of climate change will be more than threat multipliers; they will serve as catalysts for instability and conflict.”
While the latter report focuses on international impacts, the National Climate Assessment is broken down into regions and sectors across the country.
For the Southeastern United States, possible impacts on agriculture are important to consider, especially in South Georgia where agriculture plays a large role in the region’s economy.
Southeast temperatures are expected to increase this century in the range of 4 to 8 degrees, with short-term fluctuations.
This increase will lead to more days where the temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit, during which the number of deaths is statistically above average.
The increased heat stress is projected to adversely affect dairy and livestock production, possibly shifting dairy production northward; a 10 percent decline in livestock yield is projected across the Southeast through 2060.
The summer heat stress is also projected to reduce crop productivity, even more so if coupled with increased droughts.
With the 2007 drought costing the Georgia agricultural industry an estimated $339 million in crop losses, the projected drops to productivity for corn, soybeans, rice, cotton and peanuts could quickly add up. Corn yields could possibly decline by as much as 15 percent and wheat yields by 20 percent through 2020.
The assessment suggests possible adaptations to increasing temperatures: infrastructure investments like reservoirs, altering planting choices to better fit new climate conditions, developing heat-tolerant strains of crops and breeds of livestock, and increasing water-use efficiency in irrigation.
Rain projections are less certain. The Southeast is right between the projected wetter conditions in the north and drier conditions in the Southwest, leading many model projections to show only small changes.
While precipitation changes are uncertain, reduced water availability is expected due to increased evaporative losses from rising temperatures.
“When there’s extensive flooding or drought in a large part of the country, prices go up,” said Jason Allard, Valdosta State University associate professor of geography and climatology. “If droughts become more frequent, if flooding becomes more frequent, there’s significant agricultural loss. We could see increased food prices ... becoming frequent more often.”
With the National Climate Assessment projecting climate change’s impacts during the next century, it can be hard to focus on the future during the here and now.
That’s true for everyone, but especially farmers who have their hands full focusing on the problems at hand.
“I think it’s such a gradual thing that it’s not something they’re worried about really,” said Jake Price, Lowndes County Extension Office county coordinator and extension agent. “I don’t think it’s high on the list ... (with) production, insects, diseases, fertilizer prices, economic factors, that sort of thing.”