EATON RAPIDS, Mich. — With more extreme weather conditions than we were seeing 10 or 20 years ago, climate change is creating challenges for Michigan farmers. We wanted to see how farmers are adapting and how they can even help slow climate change.
“When we think about climate change, it is something that's caused, in large part by humans, emitting greenhouse gases,” said Matthew Gammans, an assistant professor of agriculture, food and resource economics at Michigan State University. “It has a lot of effects on our climate and then ultimately, trickling through to our weather systems and both, in higher temperatures, and then also extreme precipitation.”
Climate change doesn’t necessarily increase the overall amount of rain, but it means that more of that rain falls in intense single-day events, which can cause flooding and adds an element of uncertainty to farmers' plans.
Whitney Belprez, a farmer and co-owner of Two Sparrows Farm in Eaton Rapids, can feel the impact.
“We've been farming for 10 years, and I will say that over time, I think the weather has become more unpredictable,” Belprez said. “So, averages for rainfall, for temperature, soil warmth in the spring, frost dates… We have either heavier rainfall or no rainfall, or we have a lot of heat when we normally wouldn't. When we see 80, 90 degrees in May, that's very difficult for the growing season when we don't get the rain that we need in the spring to jump start the growth for the whole season. It sets us up for a drought.”
The unpredictable weather is a challenge for meteorologists too.
“The increase in some types of extreme weather events caused by climate change, such as record-breaking rainfall, poses a challenge to meteorologists because it is difficult to predict an event that only rarely happens,” the National Weather Service told FOX 47 in a statement. “However, our weather models are initialized with current atmospheric and oceanic conditions, so we base our weather predictions on the current climate reality. This approach to weather prediction takes into account the changing climate.”
Bruno Basso, a John A. Hannah distinguished professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Michigan State University, said farmers can reduce the impact of heavy rainfall by planting cover crops and retaining residues from previous crops. What many people don’t know is that they can also help when it comes to tackling climate change.
“The biggest component of the contribution to climate change in agriculture comes from fertilizer use,” Basso said.
Basso and his team are working on maps that will show farmers how much fertilizer they really need to use. They are also working on predicting the amount a farmer will be able to harvest.
“We are getting closer and closer to being able to predict yields before the end of the season,” Basso said. “So, farmers can make better decision on how much the yield is going to be on their fields…We are really trying to work with extension and agriculture business to convert this complexity in very, very simple tools that farmers could use.”
Basso is optimistic that scientists and farmers working together can find ways to mitigate the effects of a changing climate.
“We have to be really accepting the fact that climate change is a reality,” Basso said. “There will be places where there are winners and losers. In general, I feel optimistic that the combination of greater exposure of tools and communication, even this type of conversation that we're having…It’s very important for farmers to realize that the science is working really hard and is working for them and for humanity in general. Science has no additional interest than trying to help people make better decision and be able to produce the food for a growing population.”
Basso said this year is expected to be a typical mix of uncertainties dominated by droughts and heavy rain and temperatures next week are expected to reach close to 100 degrees.
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