Great Lakes Minnesota Agriculture

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Climate Change in Minnesota
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Climate Change Impacts:

Corn and soybeans are major crops in Minnesota, with more than one billion dollars in sales from these crops in 2001. The state is also a dairy and livestock leader. There are likely to be some positive impacts for agriculture resulting from a warmer climate, although current evidence suggests that the negative consequences of climate change could outweigh the positive. In general, however, regional development, technological advances, and market fluctuations have as much influence on farmers as the climate.

Changes in temperature, precipitation cycles and severe weather will have many effects upon farming. Among the potential impacts of climate change with implications for agriculture in Minnesota are:

  • A Shift in Optimal Weather Conditions
    Overall, optimal weather conditions are expected to shift northward and eastward in the Great Lakes region. Minnesota agriculture may benefit from warmer temperatures and a longer growning season, but may be constrained by thin and acidic soils.

  • Changes in Crop Yield
    Combining Soy BeansIncreased atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen, as well as a longer growing season, could boost yields of some crops—such as soybeans and corn. However, higher ozone concentrations can damage soybeans and horticultural crops, countering positive impacts of a warmer climate. In addition, severe storms and floods during the planting and harvest seasons could decrease crop productivity. Hotter and drier summers and potentially more droughts would hurt crops and may require irrigation of previously rain-fed crops, increasing the costs for farmers as well as increasing the pressures on water resources.

  • An Increase in Soil Erosion and Runoff
    Tractor in WaterHeavy rains and flooding could lead to an increase in farmers' costs to maintain soil fertility as well as contribute to off-site costs—including nutrient overloads and pollution to local water ways. These costs are already estimated at $98 million for the states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

  • More Favorable Conditions for Some Pests
    Warmer winters with longer freeze-free periods, shifts in rainfall, and extended growing seasons may create more favorable conditions for pests. More southerly pests, such as corn earworms, may expand northward. Such a shift already appears to be happening with bean leaf beetles, which feed on soybeans and serve as vectors for a virus that causes disease in soybeans. Warming will increase the rate of insect development and the number of generations that can be completed each year, contributing to a build-up of pest populations, such as the European corn borer—already the most damaging insect corn pest. In 1995, an outbreak of the European corn borer in Minnesota exceeded $285 million in estimated losses. Increased pests may drive farmers to use more pesticides or related chemicals, placing an additional burden on water quality.

  • A Decrease in Livestock Productivity
    High temperatures suppress appetite and decrease weight gain in livestock, while warmer winters and less snow cover are projected to reduce the quantity and quality of spring forage, overall decreasing milk quality. In addition, any extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts, and blizzards, have severe effects on livestock health, although intensively managed livestock operations are better able to buffer the effects of extreme events.

  • An Increase in Risk for Small Farms
    Climate variability will likely pose greater risk for smaller farms and thus may reinforce the trend toward increasing farm size and industrialization of agriculture in the region. These changes will affect local farming communities, and, in turn, change the character of rural landscapes across the state.

Photo Credits:
Loon -- US Fish and Wildlife Service, Art Weber.
Tractor in Water -- Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.
Combining soy beans -- Don Breneman, Minnesota Extension Service.
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