USDA Reports Summarize Effects of Climate Change on Ag, Forestry

Reports explain how climate change might affect U.S. farms, forests, grasslands, and rural communities

Published on: Feb 6, 2013

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday released two comprehensive reports that synthesize the scientific literature on climate change effects and adaptation strategies for U.S. agriculture and forests.

The reports were created as inputs to the National Climate Assessment. Scientists from the federal service, universities, non-governmental organizations, industry, tribal lands and the private sector contributed to the peer-reviewed studies.

"These reports present the challenges that U.S. agriculture and forests will face in this century from global climate change," said William Hohenstein, director of the Climate Change Program Office in USDA's Office of the Chief Economist. "They give us a framework for understanding the implications of climate change, in order to meet our future demands for food, feed, fiber, and fuel."

Reports explain how climate change might affect U.S. farms, forests, grasslands, and rural communities
Reports explain how climate change might affect U.S. farms, forests, grasslands, and rural communities

While U.S. agriculture and resource management have long histories of successful adaptation to climate variability, the accelerating pace and intensity of climate change presents new challenges to be addressed, USDA says.

For example, the agricultural report indicates increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, rising temperatures, and altered precipitation patterns will affect agricultural productivity. USDA says the changing climate will exacerbate the stresses already occurring from weeds, insects, and disease.

Additionally, increases in the incidence of extreme weather events will have an increasing influence on agricultural productivity. Over the next 25 years, the effects of climate change on agricultural production and economic outcomes for both producers and consumers in the United States are expected to be mixed, depending on regional conditions.

Beyond 2050, changes are expected to include shifts in crop production areas, increases in pest control expenses, and greater disease prevalence. Although some regions will be affected more than others, these disturbances are likely to change the structure and function of ecosystems across millions of acres over a short period of time.

A special report on forestry notes how forests will be affected – anticipated changes include increased tree mortality, changes in species assemblages, and reduced water quality.

"This report strengthens our resolve to aggressively continue treating and restoring our nation's forests to reduce future fire impacts," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "Recent fires in Colorado and other areas throughout the country serve as a grim portent for what we expect to see more of in the future. I'm confident that we have a strong plan in place to keep pace with the impacts a changing climate will have on our forests and grasslands."

Both reports explore the potential for adaptive practices to reduce the negative effects of climate change and take advantage of new opportunities.

USDA says successful adaptation will require research to identify management practices that enhance the resilience of forestry and ag systems to climate change effects, develops stress-tolerant plant and animal varieties, and establishes new approaches to conserve soil and water resources.

Click here to read the entire reports on agriculture or forestry.