KANSAS CITY — What stands out in the United States’ Fourth National Climate Assessment is not the evidence its authors provide to support the fact the global climate continues to warm and is changing the ecosystem. What stands out is its specificity about the impact climate change will have on the nation and, more specifically, on the food and agriculture supply chain.
“Any change in the climate poses a major challenge to agriculture through increased rates of crop failure, reduced livestock productivity and altered rates of pressure from pests, weeds and diseases,” the report said.
The report forecasts a future of dramatic change. Crop and livestock production in certain regions of the country will be adversely affected. Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and more frequent climate extremes such as floods and droughts will all make food production more difficult. In other regions, extreme precipitation will lead to excessive runoff that may increase soil erosion. Increases in temperatures during the growing season in the Midwest, which the report specifies as covering the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin, are projected to be the largest contributing factor to declines in the productivity of U.S. agriculture.
But, the report’s authors add, adaptation strategies are available to cope with adverse impacts of climate variability and change on agricultural production. Such strategies include altering what is produced, modifying the inputs used for production, adopting new technologies and adjusting management strategies.
“Developing the capacity to implement strategies that avoid stress or reduce system sensitivity can minimize vulnerability,” the report said. “Knowledge of climate change is underutilized in adaptation because procedures for incorporating climate information into decision-making have not been adequately developed.”
In stark detail, the Fourth National Climate Assessment presents a compelling argument for change.
Initiatives underway to mitigate or adapt to climate change include the use of cover crops, specialized irrigation and nutrient management. The use of genomics and different plant breeding techniques are in development to address the impact of heat, drought and pests.
A defiantly resistant Trump administration and a perpetually gridlocked Congress ensure federal action on climate change will be limited at best in the near term. This past September, a group of 17 state governors announced an agreement on policies aimed at mitigating climate change. While encouraging, the fact only a third of the nation’s 50 states joined is underwhelming.
In stark detail, the Fourth National Climate Assessment presents a compelling argument for change. With much of the public sector crippled by partisanship, the private sector must lead.
Individual companies, particularly in food and agriculture, have made great strides in developing, implementing and benchmarking strategies aimed at improving environmental performance. These businesses in conjunction with their representative trade associations must strive to do more.
The National Climate Assessment makes clear that the outlook for consistent, dependable production of many of the raw materials food and beverage companies rely on to manufacture products is imperiled. As the report states, “Future risks in climate change depend primarily on decisions made today.” More than ever before, food executives must not defer action necessary to limit potential future disruptions in production.