Arkansas Farmers Face New Challenges with Climate Change

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Mar. 18, 2013 12:00 am  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released last month a report outlining the challenges climate change poses to agriculture in the U.S. That report used the word “adaptation” 714 times, “adapt” 56 times and “adapting” 27 times.

Climate change will hurt crops and livestock, the 193-page report, “Climate Change & Agriculture in the United States: Effects & Adaptation,” said in its executive summary.

Specifically: “The continued degree of change in the climate by midcentury and beyond is expected to have overall detrimental effects on most crops and livestock.”

Marty Matlock, for one, thinks the “tipping point,” “paradigm shift” or some such other change in the consensus about the climate and agriculture has tipped or shifted or otherwise changed. Matlock thinks that farmers accept the notion that climate change is real, that the world has warmed, precipitating “wetter wets, dryer dries, warmer warms, colder colds.”

What he thinks is important because Matlock, a biological and agricultural engineer by training, heads the office for sustainability at the University of Arkansas. In addition, he’s area director for the UA’s Center for Agricultural & Rural Sustainability.

His expertise doesn’t end with agriculture. Matlock and the Sustainability Consortium in the Sam M. Walton College of Business are working to develop scientific measurements to determine what sustainable production of consumer goods would look like. In that capacity, he works closely with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other private enterprises.

Matlock, a scientist, might be convinced, but the Arkansas Farm Bureau isn’t ready to declare the issue settled, nor does the state Agriculture Department appear to be entirely on board. And a couple of farmers interviewed by Arkansas Business rejected the term “climate change,” saying that when it comes to the weather, all bets are off.

(Poll: Do you believe in global warming? Let us know right here.)

Dow Brantley farms about 9,000 acres near England, growing Arkansas’ big four field crops: soybeans, rice, corn and cotton. He’s also chairman of the Arkansas Rice Federation.

“We observe all the extremes” of weather, Brantley says. “I haven’t seen a consistent pattern. We’re still growing the same crops that my family has been growing for a hundred years.”

However, he says, “Crops are maturing earlier. That’s due to research. I don’t think climate had anything to do with that.”

And Jeff Rutledge, who grows mostly rice and soybeans on 3,500 acres near Newport, says: “It’s hard to define normal. The weather changes so much. It’s different every year.”



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