Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Illinois study predicts climate change will cut number of farm field work days by mid-century

Climate change is reducing the time farmers have for field work, says a study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign published in the academic journal PLOS One. (U of I graphic: Drought risk odds)
In a previous study, the researchers "developed models that reliably translated past climate data into field working days for Illinois," Lauren Quinn reports for U of I. For the new study "they coupled those models with climate-change scenarios to forecast field working days into the future. The group ran the models for nine crop districts in Illinois for two time periods, mid-century (2046 to 2065) and late-century (2080 to 2099), using three climate scenarios ranging from mild to extreme. The models suggest that the typical planting window for corn will no longer be workable; April and May will be far too wet to work the fields in most parts of Illinois."

Adam Davis, an ecologist for U of I and U.S. Department of Agriculture, told Quinn, “We’re predicting warmer and wetter springs, and drier, hotter summers. The season fragments, and we start to see an early-early season, so that March starts looking like a good target for planting in the future. In the past, March has been the bleeding edge; nobody in their right mind would have planted then. But we’ve already seen the trend for early planting. It’s going to keep trending in that direction for summer annuals.”

"Drought periods will intensify in mid- to late summer under all the climate scenarios," Davis said. "If farmers decide to plant later to avoid the wet period in April and May, they’re going to run into drought," which will thwart the development of corn kernels at a critical time. "That second planting window is probably pretty risky. It will come down to whether crop insurers will move planting dates earlier in the spring. They’re going to need enough years of empirical evidence that this early window exists before they are likely to make that change."

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