David Schmidt 2017-02-22 23:44:59
Uncertainty is not a strange concept to farmers: the weather, markets, government programs, politics, insurance, technologies, regulations, and the list goes on. The task of the national Extension effort, titled “Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate,” was to add the topic of climate change to the list of uncertainties for farmers and their advisors to provide relevant information to consider in their management and business practices. Why climate change is important for agriculture The USDA’s 1941 Yearbook in Agriculture was titled Climate and Man. This report is a fascinating synopsis of agriculture 75 years ago that focuses on the close relationship of agriculture and climate. The authors clearly understood that climate was the primary driver of how agriculture was organized across the nation and the world. At that time, the relationship between agriculture and climate was possibly more critical than it is now, as farm productivity relied nearly exclusively on what nature provided. Currently, we have the ability to modify or buffer the natural environment and climate. Irrigation and drainage systems are installed to manage the water needs of crops in regions of too much or not enough rainfall. Animal housing systems are used to protect animals against heat and cold. Our current agricultural systems have evolved successfully within the boundaries of some fairly constant weather parameters. However, this status is changing. In many geographic regions, the 30-year measurements of basic weather parameters, such as precipitation, temperature, and extreme weather, will not be the same in 2017 as they were in 1987. This change is significant to the agricultural community. More important, future changes in climate may be even more dramatic. The goal of this national project was to prepare a core group of Extension educators and agriculture professionals to help farmers address the current and future climate challenges in their regions. The project outcomes This Extension effort hosted and co-hosted several national and regional conferences. These conferences ranged from delivering specific messages on managing drought to general conference sessions on a wide variety of related topics. The national team developed a website to organize and present the information. The fact sheets and videos developed through the project as well as links to other relevant publications are located on the website at http://animalagclimatechange.org. In 2015, this website won an ASABE Blue Ribbon award as an educational aid. One highlight of this project is a free, ten-hour online course that takes participants through eight core knowledge areas, including: • Historic and current climate and weather conditions. • The impacts of these climate conditions on animal agriculture. • Minimizing the impacts of these climate changes. • An overview of climate science. • The role of animals in greenhouse gas emissions. • Concepts and techniques to economically mitigate these emissions. • Relevant regulations. • How to communicate the topic of climate change to a wide range of audiences. The online course covers domesticated livestock species and allows participants to focus on animal agriculture in their local area. The project message The project message was also communicated through two different blogs, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed. One of the blogs (“Climate and Agriculture in the Southeast”) focuses on current climate and agricultural impacts in the southeastern region of the U.S. The other blog (“Consider Climate”) focuses on the challenges of impacts and adaptation. In 2016, the “Consider Climate” blog was ranked in the top 50 agricultural blogs by Feedspot. In addition, scenario planning was tested using small invited groups with a dairy focus in the Northeast region and a beef focus in the Midwest region. Overall, the message of “Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate” addresses the following themes: Know your weather and understand climate. The climate has always been changing. In many geographic regions, the climate of even 30 years ago is different from what it is now. This is important for agriculture because if affects crop selection and scheduling as well as animal well-being. To make good decisions for the next year, or the next 20 years, it is important to know what the climate changes have been and what is predicted for the future. It is also important to understand why the climate is changing, including both the natural cycles and the contributions from human activity. Climate impacts are real and site-specific. The effects of climate change can be direct or indirect, and they are specific to animal species, production stage, geographic location, and farm operation. Adapting a farm to become more resilient to climate change is a sound investment. There is often some “low-hanging fruit” or low-cost modification that can make a farm more resilient to climate change, as well as more productive. There are also longer-term changes that may be needed to stay profitable in the 10 to 20 year time horizon. Greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture cannot be ignored. Improvements in productivity, i.e., making more with less, are often profitable for the farm and reduce farm emissions of greenhouse gases. Emissions per pound of meat, milk, and eggs in the U.S. have been declining and will continue to decline with further innovations. Regulations typically do not play a large role in these reduced emissions. Communicating this topic must begin on common ground. There may be controversy surrounding climate change, but there is always common ground regarding farm productivity and reducing weather risks. Almost everyone has seen “crazy” weather in the last several years—often weather that has impacted farm productivity. That’s a good place to start the conversation. ASABE member David Schmidt, P.E., Research Engineer and Instructor, Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, USA, email@example.com. The “Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate” project was supported by the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (Competitive Grant No. 2011-67003-30206) of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The project website is http://animalagclimatechange.org.
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