Society Must Act: Changes to Temperature and Rainfall Could Impair Farmers’ Ability to Produce Our Most Basic Crops
Emissions Reductions and the 2023 Farm Bill Can Alter the Course
(Washington, D.C.) Changes to weather patterns could hinder production of basic crops, according to new research published by the American Farmland Trust. By 2040, 80 percent of cropland production in the contiguous United States will be at risk from rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns, due to climate change.
The new report Projected Climate Impacts on the Growing Conditions for Rainfed Agriculture in the Contiguous United States examines the likelihood that use of present-day varieties and production practices will continue to be feasible by 2040 for rainfed croplands where corn, wheat, and apples are grown.
Under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) high emissions scenario (RCP 8.5), by 2040, AFT’s research shows only 33 percent of current corn acres and 53 percent of the current winter wheat acres are likely to remain highly productive; and the conditions on all but four percent of the commercial apple production acreage in the contiguous United States will be much less likely to support the varieties currently grown.
“Crops need water to grow but they are also dependent on certain temperature ranges at specific times of the growing season. When nature can’t deliver, crop production will suffer, the business of agriculture will be challenged and the shortages we experienced in the pandemic may become endemic,” said John Piotti, AFT President and CEO. “As a result, costs to the public will increase, both in the form of higher prices for consumers and government spending in the form of safety nets and relief. Society can intervene and alter the course. We can limit warming and help increase the resiliency and profitability of agricultural land through the Farm Bill.”
While the report reveals that these impacts will compound in the future without intervention, they are already being felt by farmers and ranchers. In a paper also being released today, Building Climate Resilience with State and Federal Farm Policy, AFT details stories from producers, shared during 2022 Farm Bill listening sessions, who are already losing money, time, and their sense of security to extreme weather: a Washington grain grower who lost 90% of her 2021 crop to heat and drought, a New York vegetable farmer who had to abandon land due to continuous flooding, a Connecticut livestock producer experiencing increased anxiety that impacts his ability to make daily farm decisions.
“In our listening sessions, we heard about the compounding struggles farmers and ranchers are facing related to climate change. This unpredictability has made their essential job of feeding their communities and their families more difficult than it already is,” said Samantha Levy, AFT’s Conservation and Climate Policy Manager. “Whatever your political leaning, the truth is unavoidable when you read it in black and white—we must reduce emissions to slow climate change and provide those that grow our food with the technical and financial assistance as well as support they need to build resilience to current and expected future changes without delay.”
Adaptation will be key, with greater support needed to help farmers and ranchers transition to practices that build resilience and reduce the risk of loss in this unpredictable climate. Practices that improve soil health, help to sustain fundamental functions of soil and water, reduce existing stressors on crops and livestock, and lessen the risk from wetter and drier conditions will be essential. And the good news is many of these practices also increase carbon sequestration in soils—a necessary part of climate mitigation.
In its Building Resilience paper, AFT proposes policy solutions at the state and federal level to provide the support producers need, including in the next Farm Bill. Congress can build on historic conservation investments in the Inflation Reduction Act and take other actions to provide longer-term support to help producers adapt, build resilience to, and mitigate climate change. AFT will release a series of white papers in the coming months detailing additional actions Congress can take in the next Farm Bill to support soil health, farmland protection and access, and farm viability.
“The window of opportunity to change the trajectory of the changing climate and avoid further compounding impacts is rapidly closing – but with the right tools and support, agricultural producers can adapt to and help reverse these trends,” Piotti said. “Combine that with support for implementing emissions reduction and resiliency building and we have a game changer.”
American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.