Forum mulls climate change effects on ag

GILFILLAN ESTATES – A panel of five experts on climate change and its impact on farm production practices discussed the past, present and future Thursday in the Farmfest Forum building.

University of Minnesota Climatologist Mark Seeley said thanks to volunteer help, he can access 150 years of meteorological records, vast amounts to data to back up his reports.

“We have experienced significant, measurable changes in temperature, precipitation and extreme weather in recent years. Statistics don’t lie,” Seeley said. He cited Moorhead’s 134-degree heat index mark on July 19, 2011 that set a record for North America. He said this past June was the wettest June in Minnesota since weather data began being recorded by instruments 150 years ago.

Seeley said there is no single reason why we are experiencing more climate extremes.

“Some of the reasons are change in atmospheric composition. Greenhouse gases are part of the equation, but exactly how much they play a part in climate change is not yet known,” Seeley explained. “Landscape changes play a part. We have some ability to mitigate some causes like this.”

Seeley said historical weather events can be accessed by comparing mineral deposits in Southeastern Minnesota caves to see what the climate was like 3,000 years ago. “They tell us we’re seeing more intense rainfall events in the last few years than ever before,” he said.

Seeley said new technology that enables us to become more engaged in climate change, helping us learn what we can control and what we can’t.

DTN Grain Marketing Analyst Todd Hultman said extreme weather events mean extreme grain prices.

“There is more risk than you think in these markets. It’s more important than ever for farmers to protect themselves from volatile prices,” Hultman said. “But soybean demand is up 200 percent the last two years. It looks like a bumper crop this year. …We’re developing new corn seed than can grow with half as much water as existing seed.”

DTN Ag Weather and Climate Analyst Bryce Anderson said California, which is experiencing a three-year drought, needs to get a handle on state water use. “It has no state program in place to monitor water use,” Anderson said.

Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said Minnesota is ahead of the water-monitoring game. “If you own an irrigator, you get cheap water,” Frederickson said. “Water pricing and taxation will become more and more of an issue soon in other states where water is more scarce.”

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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