Climate, weather and farming: What is history telling us?
As we finish 2012, a year in which the growing season began with an abnormally warm March, was plagued by a severe drought that impacted much of the corn belt, and ended with farmers reporting both record high and record low yields in corn and soybeans, it is fitting to discuss climate and weather and its impact on our agriculture industry.
Last year, the National Climate Assessment. This Midwest Technical Input Team produced a series of reports in 2012, representing the current state of knowledge on what climate change and variability mean to the most critical sectors in the region.(a -funded collaboration of and the ) and the assembled a team of experts to provide input to the ’s forthcoming
According to the team’s report on historical climate trends, weather and climate remain among the most important uncontrollable variables involved in the region’s agricultural production systems. This is particularly critical for the Midwest as agriculture is a major player in this region’s economy, with over $200 billion in farm gate value.
Let’s begin by discussing the difference between climate and weather. Climate is long-term, based on statistics of observations taken over a large number of years. It is what you can “count-on” in Michigan, for example cool crisp falls, snow in the winter, etc. Weather, on the other hand, is what you get on a day-to-day basis. The abnormally warm March of 2012 was a weather event; this was not typical of Michigan’s climate. This article is the first in a series where Michigan State University Extension will discuss the report as it relates to agriculture in the Midwest. The full report is available on the Great Lakes Integrated Science Assessment website.
In the Midwest, mean temperatures have increased since 1900 and the rate of increase is greater from 1980 through 2010. Precipitation has also increased since the late 1930s. In fact, the last three decades have been the wettest on record. However, the changes in rainfall and temperature have not been the same in all regions or in all four seasons of the year. In Michigan, annual precipitation has remained the same, but we are getting less rain in the fall and more precipitation in the winter and spring. Michigan has gotten warmer over the last 30 years as well with the winter and spring temperatures increasing the most.