Climate Foundations

Our climate is changing, and these changes have been a defining factor for agriculture, soil, and water quality within the North Central Region. Shifts in crops, cropping seasons, and plant hardiness zones are occurring throughout the United States in response to observed changes in the climate. One example of these shifts is in the north central region has been the increase in corn acres in the Dakotas and Northern Minnesota as growing conditions have become more favorable. Simultaneously, extreme precipitation, soil erosion, heat and drought damage, and other climate stressors are causing climate disruptions.  According to the National Climate Assessment, climate disruptions to agriculture production have increased in the past 40 years and disruptions are projected to continue to increase over the next 25 years. Producers, advisors and educators need information on how to alter management practices to adapt to these changes while maintaining economic profitability.

Key Climate Stressors

Scientists, researchers, farmers, educators, and water/agriculture professionals have noted a handful of climate stressors that have made maintaining sustainable urban systems and profitable agriculture networks increasingly difficult.  In our region, local climate stressors range from hotter temperatures to extreme rainfalls. These climate stressors have both direct and indirect effects on our region. Some of these effects include:

The Shifting 100th Meridian Line

A major change climate scientists are focusing on in the US is the shifting of the 100th Meridian Line.  According to the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the meridian line which split the US almost exactly down the middle and dividing the country where the dry, arid lands met the wetter, more fertile ground, is slowly shifting eastward.  The shifting of the 100th Meridian Line means that, say, cities with infrastructure used to precipitation and steady supplies of rainwater, may be faced with drier conditions. Alternatively, a farm that is equally setup for large amounts of precipitation too may be faced with increasingly dry and warm temperatures.

Drought and Heat Damage

According to NOAA, 2017 was the third hottest year on record.  With increased heat and dryer temperatures, drought and heat damage can make it hard to yield productive crop outcomes and make it harder to keep livestock safe.

Aerial image of river flooding

Precipitation and Soil Erosion

While hotter temperatures can be harmful to some areas, extreme precipitation can affect other areas.  With more rain totals and more extreme weather events comes the potential for soil erosion, and areas that have not faced rainfall extremes in the past may be unprepared.

Weeds, Diseases, and Pests

Climate shifts make it easier for weeds, diseases, and pests to become larger issues. With new conditions come new organisms and pathogens that can be detrimental to crops, livestock, and even cities.  While these are not a direct result of climate stressors, these weeds, diseases, and pests are indirectly caused by shifting and changing landscapes.

Climate-Smart Practices

While climate stressors may seem increasingly challenging, by implementing climate-smart practices, producers can ensure they are able to adapt to extreme weather events by improving farm sustainability while maximizing profitability.  So what are climate-smart practices exactly? To put simply, climate-smart practices are applications, tools, and exercises in agriculture and urban systems that work with climate stressors in mind. These practices are used in order to sustain crops, livestock, and urban systems for the future.  For example, an area that is becoming increasingly dry and faced with new pests and diseases may implement climate-smart practices of rotating crops yearly to avoid the pests and reducing tillage as not to disturb the already dry soil.

These practices are used to combat and adapt to the climate stressors affecting each specific farm or area.  Examples of climate-smart practices include: crop rotation, pest management, genetic selection, fertilizer management, planting times, water management, and more practices that meet the specific needs of a specific area.

Climate-smart practices are successful when they are made specific for the site and location.  This makes it difficult to release a universally-helpful list of practices. However, the North Central Climate Collaborative is striving to give farmers, educators, and researchers the tools they need to understand their specific climate stressors and what climate-smart practices will help them sustain their yields and profitability.