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Report: Indiana agriculture will need to adapt as climate changes

Over the coming decades, Hoosier farmers will have to adapt to rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns that will have some positive but overall more negative effects on row crops, livestock, poultry, specialty crops and soil health, according to the latest report by the Purdue University-based Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment.

The report – Indiana’s Agriculture in a Changing Climate – was released during a community briefing July 31 at the Indiana Corn and Soybean Innovation Center.

“This report outlines the many challenges farmers across our state will face as well as opportunities to prepare for and get ahead of those challenges,” said Karen Plaut, the Glenn W. Sample dean of the Purdue College of Agriculture. “It will take hard work and many difficult decisions to maintain and increase our food supply, but Hoosier farmers have shown for generations that they can and will persevere in the face of difficulties.”

Adapting to changing conditions will be key to keeping agriculture as a major pillar of the state’s economy, the report’s authors said. Indiana is 11th in the country for agricultural products sold, which make up $31 billion of the state’s economy.

Rising temperatures and changes in water availability will stress crops. Using today’s varieties, corn and soybean yields are expected to decline 16-20 percent and 9-11 percent respectively by the middle of the century.

Livestock animals are also at risk. The number of days each year that reach 86 degrees F, a threshold for livestock heat stress, is expected to increase from 40 per year currently to as many as 100 by the middle of the century. Those conditions will decrease animal growth and increase the risk of disease and heat-related deaths.

“If we don’t have improved varieties, then we can expect that row crop yields are going to decline. That could be offset by a variety of different factors, at least for some crops.  For instance, soybeans may benefit from increased carbon dioxide and the potential to double crop in warmer parts of the state,” said Jeff Dukes, director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. “Livestock is going to become trickier to raise in some ways because the extreme warm temperatures in the summer will pose a threat to their growth and well-being.”

Livestock raised on pasture are likely to need more outdoor shelters to deal with the heat. Indoor operators will likely incur increased costs for ventilation to keep their animals cool.

More spring precipitation paired with increasing adoption of field drainage systems could lead to more nutrient loss through overland erosion and subsurface drainage. Increased irrigation needs may stress water supply. And it will be more difficult to maintain soil organic matter, causing a decline in soil health.

Warming winters may change the types of fruit crops suitable for Indiana. In the south, pluots, nectarines and some berry varieties currently unviable here today may grow here later in the century, while some grape and apple varieties, including the popular Honeycrisp and Gala, may no longer be viable.

“There’s real potential for declines in soil health if farmers aren’t proactively managing their lands to protect the soil,” said Laura Bowling, a Purdue professor of agronomy and lead author of the report. “Orchard owners need to think carefully about the varieties they might be planting in the near future because different varieties will be better suited to tomorrow’s climate than what growers are used to today.”

The IN CCIA report suggests that there will be significant challenges for Hoosier farmers, but Dukes points to opportunities to adapt as a positive.

“A lot of work needs to be done if we are going to avoid the losses we expect from climate change,” Dukes said. “There will be difficult decisions ahead, but the information in this report will help to inform those decisions. To keep the future of Indiana agriculture bright, we need to be thinking about tomorrow’s climate today.”

A video recap of the community briefing on the agriculture report is now available at https://youtu.be/J7tGbgulFU8.

The Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment (IN CCIA) has compiled the latest scientific research into a series of easily understandable reports about climate change impacts in ten topic areas: climate, health, forest ecosystems, aquatic ecosystems, urban green infrastructure, tourism and recreation, agriculture, water resources, energy, and infrastructure. The assessment team consists of more than 100 experts from Purdue and other Indiana institutions.

The IN CCIA has now released five reports. All are available on the IN CCIA website at http://indianaclimate.org. For more information about the IN CCIA, go to the website or follow on social media at @PurdueCCRC, #ClimateChange, #INCCIA. 

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