Top State Ag Officials Raise United Voice on Climate Resiliency
The heads of the states’ agricultural departments acknowledged last week the necessity of adapting to a changing climate to protect and enhance the nation’s natural resources, while also building a resilient agricultural and food supply chain.
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) adopted a new climate resiliency policy at the organization’s annual meeting in New Mexico.
The top NASDA official says the policy is a reflection of the group embracing climate smart agriculture.
“We’re elevating our united voice on resiliency and climate-smart solutions,” said NASDA CEO Barb Glenn. “We must accelerate our work on supporting environmental stewardship within the agricultural and food industry. Joined together as agricultural leaders with the authority and responsibility to cultivate positive change in their states, NASDA members can make a lasting impact for the nation’s environment.”
NASDA’s policy asserts that addressing climate resiliency in agriculture requires a comprehensive approach and encourages the collaboration of governments, corporations and philanthropic communities to develop incentive-based programs and pursue research that helps agriculture adapt to the effects of a changing climate.
A new NASDA partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund was announced at the meeting, emphasizing the importance of additional and creative funding sources. Organization officials say a co-published report – Innovative State-Led Efforts to Finance Agricultural Conservation – demonstrates success stories of state-led conservation programs funded through unique sources.
“In addition to establishing unique programs, incentive-based financing and assistance provides financial protection for farmers who take on risk when incorporating new on-farm practices into their business operations,” Glenn said.
California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross introduced the policy amendment.
“Recognizing and supporting the voluntary actions of the nation’s farmers and ranchers to protect and enhance land, water and other natural resources is critical as we continue to address a changing climate,” Ross said. “California is pleased to join and support NASDA in taking action at the federal level on climate smart agriculture programs.”
Global Thought Leaders Call for Urgent Action on Climate Adaptation
In a report issued last week, a commission convened last year by policy and thought leaders representing 20 nations calls on governments and businesses to take urgent action to innovate and advance climate adaptation solutions in light of new research findings.
The Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) says adaptation can deliver $7.1 trillion in benefits.
The commission is composed of 34 commissioners and brings together leaders from political, business, multilateral, and scientific worlds to identify solutions and drive action. Among its leadership is Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary General of the United Nations; Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Axel van Trotsenburg, acting CEO of the World Bank; environment ministers from China, India and Canada, and the top officials with the UN climate and environment divisions, among others.
The groups says it aims to inspire heads of state, government officials, community leaders, business executives, investors and other international actors to prepare for and respond to the disruptive effects of climate change with “urgency, determination and foresight.”
As part of the commission’s aggressive strategy, the report, Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience, finds that investing $1.8 trillion globally in five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate more than three times that amount in total net benefits.
The five areas the report considers are early warning systems are improved dryland agriculture, climate-resilient infrastructure, mangrove protection, and investments in making water resources more resilient. The areas represent only a portion of the total investments needed and total benefits available, the report says.
On the agriculture front, the report contends that without adaptation, climate change may depress growth in global agriculture yields up to 30 percent by 2050, adding that the 500 million small farms around the world will be most affected.
Commission leaders say the report is being released now as climate impacts – super-charged hurricanes, floods, and wildfires – are becoming an increasingly urgent reality.
“As recent events have shown, climate change affects people everywhere,” the commission said in announcing the report. “Furthermore, without action, millions of people will be pushed further into poverty, leading to increased conflict and instability.”
The report calls for adaptation that addresses underlying inequalities in society and brings more people, especially people most vulnerable to climate impacts, into decision making. The reality is that those most affected by climate change did the least to cause the problem – making adaptation a human imperative.
The report also calls for revolutions in three areas – understanding, planning and finance-in order to ensure that climate impacts, risks and solutions are factoring into decision making at all levels. The report explores how these major changes can be applied across seven interlocking systems: food, natural environment, water, cities, infrastructures, disaster risk management, and finance.
The commission will make several announcements and unveil additional “Action Tracks” at the UN climate Summit at UN headquarters in New York Sept. 23. The tracks are outlined in the report and cover areas such as resilience, food security, disaster risk management and finance.
Soils Could Be Affected by Climate Change, Impacting Water and Food
Coasts, oceans, ecosystems, weather and human health all face impacts from climate change, and now valuable soils may also be affected.
Climate change may reduce the ability of soils to absorb water in many parts of the world, according to a Rutgers-led study. And that could have serious implications for groundwater supplies, food production and security, stormwater runoff, biodiversity and ecosystems.
Increased irrigation by sprinklers at the Konza Prairie Biological Station in the Flint Hills of northeastern Kansas altered the soil pore system of a prairie soil.
The study is published in the journal Science Advances.
“Since rainfall patterns and other environmental conditions are shifting globally as a result of climate change, our results suggest that how water interacts with soil could change appreciably in many parts of the world, and do so fairly rapidly,” said co-author Daniel Giménez, a soil scientist and professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “We propose that the direction, magnitude and rate of the changes should be measured and incorporated into predictions of ecosystem responses to climate change.”
Water in soil is crucial for storing carbon, and soil changes could influence the level of carbon dioxide in the air in an unpredictable way, according to Giménez, of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. Carbon dioxide is one of the key greenhouse gases linked to climate change.
Giménez co-authored a study published last year in the journal Nature showing that regional increases in precipitation due to climate change may lead to less water infiltration, more runoff and erosion, and greater risk of flash flooding.
Whether rainfall will infiltrate or run off of soil determines how much water will be available for plants or will evaporate into the air. Studies have shown that water infiltration to soil can change over one to two decades with increased rainfall, and climate change is expected to boost rainfall in many areas of the world.
During a 25-year experiment in Kansas that involved irrigation of prairie soil with sprinklers, a Rutgers-led team of scientists found that a 35 percent increase in rainfall led to a 21 percent to 33 percent reduction in water infiltration rates in soil and only a small increase in water retention.
The biggest changes were linked to shifts in relatively large pores, or spaces, in the soil. Large pores capture water that plants and microorganisms can use, and that contributes to enhanced biological activity and nutrient cycling in soil and decreases soil losses through erosion.
With increased rainfall, plant communities had thicker roots that could clog larger pores and there were less intense cycles of soil expansion when water was added or contraction when water was removed.
The next step is to investigate the mechanisms driving the observed changes, in order to extrapolate the findings to other regions of the world and incorporate them into predictions of how ecosystems will respond to climate change. The scientists also want to study a wider array of environmental factors and soil types, and identify other soil changes that may result from shifts in climate.
The lead author is Joshua S. Caplan, a former Rutgers postdoctoral associate now at Temple University. Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, University of Kansas, Kansas State University and Colorado State University contributed to the study.
ERS: Potential Effects of Climate Change on Ag Productivity
Likely To Vary By Region
In an indication of what may be coming, the frequency of adverse weather events has increased over the past four decades, fluctuating U.S. farm productivity considerably from year to year, says a report issued by the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS).
According to ERS statistics, U.S. farm output since 1948 has grown by 170 percent. With little change in the total use of inputs – fertilizer, pesticides, labor, machinery, land and other materials – increases in what’s called total factor productivity, or TFP (measured as total output per unit of total input use), accounted for more than 90 percent of that output growth.
However, TFP growth rates fluctuate considerably from year to year, mostly in response to adverse weather, which can lower productivity estimates.
In the past four decades, the frequency of adverse weather events has increased. “Weather” refers to short-term variations in temperature or precipitation, while “climate” refers to average weather patterns over a long period of time. Although climate change and weather variation are two different issues, changes in climate patterns are increasing the frequency of extreme weather, such as heat waves and drought.
Changes in temperature and precipitation can have different effects on crop and livestock production, the ERS say.
The scientific literature suggests that high heat stress can reduce livestock fertility, weight and the efficiency with which farm animals metabolize feed. The stress can be measured with a Temperature-Humidity Index (THI). For crops, the Oury index (a measure of aridity that normalizes rainfall with respect to temperature) has been found to be an effective indicator of the relationship between climatic conditions and plant growth. A lower Oury index indicates drier conditions that will generally result in lower crop yield.
Recent ERS research exploring the relationship between climate change and agricultural productivity found that changes in THI and the Oury index varied by U.S. region. Some States had little change on the average, but became more volatile, with greater fluctuation since the 1980s.
The results also suggest that, over the long run, each state gradually adapted to its average climate conditions, with states exposed to more severe conditions adopting technologies or practices that can mitigate damage from adverse weather.
For example, drier regions, such as California and Nevada, usually have higher irrigation-ready land density than other regions. As a result, average changes in temperature and precipitation may not have severe impacts on productivity as long as they fall within historical fluctuation ranges.
In contrast, unexpected weather shocks, such as severe droughts that fall outside the range of historical weather fluctuations, have more significant impacts on regional productivity.
Researchers also modeled a future climate-change scenario with an average temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and a 1-inch decrease in average annual precipitation.
Projections showed that the difference of the total factor productivity levels – the “TFP gap index” – between the projected period (2030-2040) and the reference period (2000-2010) varied across regions. Some states would experience larger effects than others, because for some states, those climate changes fall within the range of what is historically observed, while for other states they do not.
Under the climate change scenario, the states experiencing the greatest impacts would include Louisiana and Mississippi in the Delta region; Rhode Island, Delaware, and Connecticut in the Northeast region; Missouri in the Corn Belt region; Florida in the Southeast region; North Dakota in the Northern Plains region; and Oklahoma in the Southern Plains region.
DOE Co-Optima Website Focuses on Efforts to Improve Fuels and Engines
The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has put up on the department’s website a page specifically devoted to its Co-Optimization of Fuels & Engines (Co-Optima) initiative, a long-term exploration of how simultaneous innovations in fuels and engines can boost fuel economy and vehicle performance, all while reducing emissions.
The website provides specific information on the efforts being made to advance the underlying science needed to deliver better fuels and better engines sooner.
As explained on the web page, the Co-Optima team views fuels not as stand-alone elements in the transportation system, but as dynamic design variables that can work with modern engines to optimize and revolutionize the entire on-road fleet, from light-duty passenger cars to heavy-duty freight trucks.
Top scientists, engineers, and analysts from national laboratories, universities and industry are collaborating on this first-of-its-kind effort to combine biofuels and combustion research and development.
DOE officials say that building on decades of advances in fuels and engines, the Co-Optima initiative’s three-pronged, integrated approach is providing American industry with the scientific underpinnings needed to identify and develop:
- Engines designed to run more efficiently on affordable, scalable, and sustainable fuels
- Fuels designed to enable high-efficiency, low-emission engines
- Strategies that can shape the success of new fuels and vehicle technologies with industry and consumers
A link on the Co-Optima page takes viewers to recent DOE news items about the initiative, including the initiative’s identification of the innovation needed to maintain momentum in fuel economy gains; and another announcing a department funding opportunity of up to $59 million for new and innovative advanced vehicle technologies research.
Another link takes visitors to an updated account of ongoing research underway through the initiative, including efforts that pinpoint fuel properties for optimal performance, rigorously screen to identify blendstock potential, and pair fuel and engine innovation for light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
A third link promotes several Co-Optima software tools and databases, while a fourth link takes visitors to a variety of project-related publications.