The seafood, crops, and livestock produced in the US contribute a massive $300 billion to its economy annually. Add agricultural industries and food services, adding another $450 billion to the GDP. Since these industries are heavily dependent on weather patterns, climate change can have a devastating effect many of them may not be able to recover from.
Understanding Climate Change
To understand how climate change and its effects damage the farming industry, you need to understand how the former came to be. Climate change refers to significant and prolonged changes in climate. These can include spikes or drops in precipitation, temperature and altering wind patterns, etc., which can last for decades, if not more.
Global warming is an offshoot of that phenomenon. It refers to the ongoing rise in temperature near the planet’s surface. It results from rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which, in turn, are altering climate patterns.
These gases trap heat on the surface of the planet. While this phenomenon keeps us warm, these gases are rising rapidly and increasing temperatures at an unhealthy and deadly pace. Agricultural producers suffer the brunt of that effect depending on the specific climate conditions they are experiencing.
Common Climate Change Trends
Farmers across the US are already facing the effects of climate change. Some of the common trends include:
Changing rainfall patterns
Rainfall patterns have altered significantly across the nation, and they will reportedly increase in intensity over the years resulting in heavy rains and extended droughts irrespective of region.
Altering temperature patterns
As greenhouse gases increase, so does the temperature. This has resulted in shorter winters and more prolonged, drought-ridden summers. Aggressive thaws have also caused floods that have leveled crops in several regions. This includes the Midwest and farms that are located near the coast. Unprecedented floods have also killed livestock, polluted the water, damaged farm buildings, and sped up soil erosion.
Alterations in livestock and crop viability
As climate change worsens, farmers have no choice but to adapt if they want to remain profitable and sustainable. Many are now choosing crops and animal breeds that can adapt to harsh conditions. However, as these unpredictable climate changes come in hard and fast, farmers will find themselves rethinking these decisions or suffer the consequences. This includes finding new investment sources, farming alternatives, markets, and practices.
New pest and weed issues
New farming practices and a changing climate means new threats to the agriculture industry. This can include never-before-seen pests, mutated existing pests, and increasingly harmful pesticides invented to deal with said pests. Plus, a weed that could not survive in northern Texas may suddenly flourish there or find its way to other states. In any case, farmers will have to cope or face ruin.
Meeting the Climate Change Challenge
Businesses have to understand that turning a blind eye to climate change will do nothing but ruin the farming communities they are dependent on. The nation must take significant steps to prepare for the impact of a changing climate on farming practices. The main aim should be to reduce the severity of the changes and exposure that farmers may face.
Climate change doesn’t discriminate, but its effects are spread out unequally. Government policies and corporate agricultural businesses have long sidelined colored, tribal, and low-income communities with limited access to critical resources. Because of this, most of them are exposed to the harsh realities of climate change more so than their ‘privileged’ counterparts. Moving forward, these communities must be given equal opportunities and access if we are to reverse the devastating effects pollution and other harmful practices have on our planet.
About Jillian Hishaw
MacArthur Foundation recipient, Jillian Hishaw is an agricultural lawyer with more than two decades of experience representing clients in small rural farms in India, Sierra Leone, the Caribbean, and throughout the US through her law practice and non-profit organization, Family Agriculture Resource Management Services. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology, a Juris Doctorate, and a Legal Masters in agricultural law.
Her primary focus is estate planning, and she has been critical in preventing farms from foreclosing. Hishaw also provides legal services to farmers who are discriminated against because of their race, color, or other oppressed categories.