SfL Report Assesses Challenges Posed by Changing Climatic Conditions in Missouri

October 29, 2018

Solutions from the Land (SfL) commends Missouri agriculture and forestry leaders who looked into the future, examined what science is telling them is coming from changing climatic conditions and extreme weather events, and explored opportunities to improve resiliency and ensure the economic viability of the state’s agricultural and forestry sectors for decades to come.

In a report released today, SfL summarizes a facilitated dialogue, with collaboration involving leading farmers, ranchers and foresters, and business, academic, research and government partners. These stakeholders shed light on not only the challenges the changing conditions – including hotter temperatures, longer periods of drought and more extensive flooding – are posing to food and forestry production in the state, but on the impacts they will continue to have.

The Missouri Smart Agriculture Work Group was asked to assess the state’s agriculture and forestry sectors’ preparedness to meet the changes and challenges forecast by climate scientists. The Work Group also discussed the tools, practices, technologies or programs that producers need to adapt to the changing conditions, manage and respond to risks, and improve the resiliency of their operations.

It’s a formidable job, given the ongoing trials Missouri ag and forestry producers are facing: low commodity prices, rising input costs, volatile global market structures, changing consumer preferences and regulatory uncertainty, among others. Many of these challenges will be exacerbated by the impacts of extreme weather events and changing climatic conditions. The Work Group provided a forum for discussing and evaluating adaptation measures, including soil conservation systems, risk management tools and infrastructure modifications, among others.

One important adaptive management strategy that the Work Group identified was conservation practices Missouri farmers are using to boost production, enhance soil carbon content and reduce soil loss.

Informed by a report from project partner Climate Central, the group validated the role conservation practices play in helping farmers manage the more-intense weather extremes that occur more frequently with our changing climate. These climate-smart farming methods, including cover crops and greater crop and livestock-grazing rotation, also aid in carbon sequestration, removing some of the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and trapping the soil-enriching carbon in the ground.

Given the various combinations of climate, terrain and soil in Missouri, all of which have made possible several major types of farming, the state is ideal for exploring pathways for improving resiliency.

Over the past several decades, Missouri’s State Climatologist reports a noticeable shift in climatic conditions and trends, which has created new challenges for managing the state’s working lands. The trends include above-normal temperatures in 15 out of the past 20 years, continuing a warming trend first noted in the mid-80s. Summer and fall nighttime temperature averages have been notably higher over the past few decades.

Over the past 20 years, spring frost dates have been occurring earlier while autumn frost dates have occurred later. Precipitation, including “heavy” and “extreme” rainfall events, has been trending above normal since the early 1980s, while snowfalls have been declining. And Missouri is experiencing more abrupt changes between extended dry and wet patterns.

The Missouri ag and forestry sectors play an extremely significant role in the state’s economy. According to the latest National Agricultural Statistics Service data, the state is home to 97,300 farms and ranches covering nearly two-thirds of the state’s total land acreage. Missouri’s top agricultural commodities, including soybeans, corn, cotton, cattle and calves, hay, hogs and turkeys, make up a $9-billion sector. Meanwhile, the state is home to some 14 million acres of forest land – some 85 percent of which is owned privately – contributes another $3 billion each year to Missouri’s economy. These discussions by the Work Group are import in evaluating opportunities to strengthen on-farm resiliency and profitability.

The work in Missouri is part of a larger dialogue that SfL is conducting on climate smart agriculture strategies and practices across the country. SfL advocates for the evaluation of and compensation for the full range of products and services the nation’s agriculture and forestry sectors can deliver. In addition to safe, affordable and abundant food, feed and fiber, the sectors can offer clean energy and ecosystem services such as water filtration, flood control, enhanced biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

Ethan Miller, a row crop and livestock producer from Centralia and a member of the Work Group, points out that Missouri has a great agricultural tradition. “While farmers, ranchers and foresters in our state may have challenges ahead, they also offer nearly half the solution opportunities that society is asking for, and that is the untold story.”

Miller and the SfL encourage stakeholders to engage with the Missouri Work Group, with the Centralia farmer ensuring that “it will serve as an ongoing platform for continued discussions on the food, feed, fiber, energy and ecosystems services that can be delivered from the land.”

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An Agricultural Renaissance, led by innovative and entrepreneurial farmers, ranchers and foresters constructing sustainable, profitable and resilient systems that lay the foundation for a world of abundance on many scales capable of producing nutritious food, feed, fiber, clean energy, healthy ecosystems, quality livelihoods, and strong rural economies.