Even though not everyone believes that climate change is a reality, changes are taking place that impact our work in the ag industry
Moisture concerns continue. Even though snow means more work around farms and ranches, getting snow during the winter holds the promise that maybe we'll have rain this spring.
When I talked to my friend Tammy Basel at Union Center, she said that they've had very little snow. She's reduced the number of ewes by half as they anticipate that they'll have little grass to provide pasture this spring for the herd of ewes and lambs. A lady from the Tabor area said they've had very little snow this year. When visiting with people at meetings, those of us who've had snow are considered fortunate.
At the Farmers Union convention last weekend, Meteorologist Phil Schumacher addressed climate change and weather patterns. He reminded people, You can ignore it all you want but the impacts of higher temperatures and changes in weather patterns affect changes in yields, your job and your ability to make money. All of that impacts profits in your operation.
The greenhouse effect is needed on the planet. Gases are trapped, keeping the average temperature on earth around 50 to 55 degrees F. Some of that is man-made, some is a response to the natural order.
Schumacher said that in South Dakota, since 1979, the yearly average temperature has warmed 1.45 degrees per decade. By the end of the century, temperatures are projected to continue to increase by 2.5 degrees F to more than 13 degrees F compared with the 1960 to 1979 baseline, depending on future emissions of heat-trapping gases.
Warmer temperatures translate into increasing the growing season by almost 10 days across the Great Plains. Along with this, fewer pests are killed in winter. Milder winters and earlier springs also encourage greater numbers and earlier emergence of insects. Winters used to kill off critters such as Pine beetles in the Black Hills. That has changed.
There have also been changes in extreme rainfall events, instances in which rain comes down so fast and heavy that the moisture doesn't soak into the ground. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere can increase crop growth, but also make some types of weeds grow even faster
Schumacher said that successful adaptation will require diversification of crops and livestock, as well as transitions from irrigated to rain-fed agriculture. Producers who can adapt to changing climate conditions are likely to see their businesses survive; some might even thrive. Others, without resources or ability to adapt effectively, will lose out.
Think of it as insurance. Actions need to be taken now, to mitigate and to adapt practices so operations are more likely to thrive in the future, Schumacher said, Farmers and ranchers need to ask, 'what can I do if I keep current practices?' Talk to agronomists, to those in extension and discuss with them ways to change systems and increased crop diversity.
Mixed cropping-livestock systems maximize available resources while minimizing the need for external inputs such as irrigation that draws down precious water supplies. In many parts of the region, diverse cropping systems and improved water use efficiency will be key to sustaining crop and rangeland systems.
We don't know what will happen in the future. We can't do much about natural events, but our actions can impact some of the problems we create through our practices on our farms and ranches. The question comes down to, Do I want to continue to do what I want, or do I make changes that, even though it's just in my operation, may affect what's going to impact future generations?