The world’s climate is getting warmer, and that could have a profound impact on U.S. agriculture, says Jerry Hatfield, supervisory plant physiologist with USDA’s National Soil Tilth Research Laboratory at Iowa State University.
While right-wing pundits and even some Democrats, such as Collin Peterson, may scoff, Hatfield says the world can expect warmer temperatures for the next 30 to 50 years, rising carbon dioxide concentrations and increased variability in temperature and precipitation.
Hatfield isn’t some off-the-wall environmentalist with an agenda. He’s a respected scientist who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 and chaired last year’s USDA Greenhouse Gas Symposium. He also says the phenomenon is not new.
“Climate has changed, climate is changing and climate will change. There is no such thing as having consistent climate around the globe. The real question is what sort of magnitude of change we’re going to see in the next few years.”
His comments at the American Phytopathological Society’s North Central Division meeting in Ames, Iowa, came days before the House approved legislation marking the government’s first significant attempt to address the issue. Peterson negotiated several amendments aimed at reducing the Waxman-Markey bill’s impact on U.S. agriculture and rural areas.
But some farm organizations have said Peterson’s amendments don’t go far enough and, while they commended the House ag committee chair’s efforts, they would continue to try to change the legislation.
The National Cotton Council said the costs of higher energy and other production impacts for the U.S. cotton industry will far outweigh any benefits from resulting offsets. A preliminary analysis indicates every 10 percent increase in input prices will increase costs by at least $175 million.
Council leaders said they were also concerned about the international disparity the legislation could create for U.S. industry since China and India, the two largest cotton and textile producing countries, have refused to sign any agreement to curtail their greenhouse gas emissions.
The Council is right to be concerned about the recalcitrance of China and India, whose cotton subsidies have done significant damage to U.S. cotton producers. But climate experts hope the position being taken by such farm groups doesn’t come back to haunt them.
The reality is temperatures in the Southeast have become slightly cooler while those in the Midwest and even in Alaska have become warmer. Areas such as the Southwest, where much of U.S. cotton is now grown, could get hotter and drier.
“We will have winners and losers,” says Hatfield. “The weather patterns will be characterized by much bigger swings than in the past. California could move from snow to rain, which could be problematic because their infrastructure is built to handle snow melt not rainfall.”