Climate change, no matter the cause, is real, a panel told North American Agricultural Journalists at their annual spring meeting in Washington, D.C., last week.
"We really have to get past talking about what is causing it and agreeing that we need mitigation and adaptation strategies," said Fred Yoder, a former president of the National Association of Corn Growers, who farms in Ohio. "In the end it doesn't matter one bit if it's a natural cycle or a man-made problem, we have to deal with it."
Bill Hohenstein, director of the USDA climate change program, said the scientific evidence that links increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with increasing temperatures is conclusive.
"We are seeing evidence of the changing climate in the last decade or more with the last 14 or 15 years being the warmest on record," he said, "The thing we are seeing is that farmers are already adapting to this change; the challenge we face is an accelerating rate of change that makes it harder and harder to adapt."
Hohenstein said the U.S . will see more droughts, more floods and more erratic weather , such as the extremely warm November and December experienced in Wichita last year, followed by the wintry weather the area has experienced in March and April.
For crops, Hohenstein said farmers can expect a positive effect in longer growing season and the ability to grow more crops in areas where it was previously too cold.
However, these positives are likely to be offset by more extreme heat such as the 56 days of 100-degree-plus heat Wichita experienced in 2011 and the extreme drought that robbed yields across most of farm country in 2012.
Farmers can expect more heat and drought stress on crops such as soybeans and corn and water stress and late-season frost on wheat and small grains, Hohenstein said.