Great Lakes Wisconsin Agriculture

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Climate Change Impacts:

Wisconsin ranks first in the country in cheese production and second for milk. The state’s farmers also raise a great deal of corn, hay, and soybeans. There are likely to be some positive impacts for agriculture resulting from a warmer climate, although current evidence suggests that the negative consequences 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 affects upon farming in Wisconsin. Potential impacts include:

  • Shift in Optimal Weather Conditions

  • Models project an expected shift of optimal weather conditions northward and eastward in the Great Lakes region. Wisconsin agriculture may benefit from warmer temperatures and a longer growing season, but may also be constrained by declining soil moisture and thin and acidic soils.
  • Changes in Crop Yield
    Increases 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 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, costing farmers and increasing pressures on water resources.
  • 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. Increased pests may drive farmers to use more pesticides or related chemicals, placing an additional burden on water quality.
  • Decrease in Livestock Productivity
    High temperatures suppress appetite and decrease weight gain in livestock while warmer winters and less snow cover are predicted to reduce the quantity and quality of spring forage, and thus, milk quality.
  • Increase in Soil Erosion and Runoff
    Heavy rains and flooding could lead to an increase in farmers’ costs to maintain soil fertility and 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.
  • 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:
Leopard Frog -- John Maguson.
Farm in Wisconsin-- Bob Allan, NREL

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