Arkansas Farmers Face New Challenges with Climate Change

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

As for what state Agriculture Secretary Butch Calhoun will allow, he says that the weather, always changeable, seems to be more changeable lately.

And the Farm Bureau echoes its parent organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation, which “recognizes there may have been an increase in occurrences of extreme weather.” It doesn’t think the U.S., by itself, can do anything to affect global temperatures or stop “devastating weather events.”

Ultimately, that position is not so different from Matlock’s thinking:

“A farmer can’t control climate change. Global governments might be able to impact that, but farmers can’t. Farmers have to respond to it. They have to understand it. They have to understand its implications.”

Matlock says the farmers he deals with do recognize a changing climate. “Arkansas farmers are acutely attuned to the issue of sustainability, particularly as it pertains to climate change and other changes in their production environment,” he says. “They’re reading everything they can get. They’re attending meetings. They’re participating in the regional and national conferences and workshops in these issues. They are engaged at the individual and leadership level in trying to understand what these implications are.”

Agricultural interests, Matlock says, are “seeing these record rains, record droughts. They’re seeing this and they’re saying, ‘This is not normal.’ They might, over a coffee or a beer, say, ‘Well, it’s not human causes. It’s sunspots.’ But the notion that it’s changing? That’s not even a discussion point anymore.”

Even Steve Eddington, a spokesman for the Arkansas Farm Bureau, acknowledges that farmers are voicing concerns. “It’s certainly a topic that people are talking about. And I’m using ‘climate change’ as broadly as can be, relative to the drought. Or the heavy, heavy rains we had a year and a half ago, too.”

So though some farmers might reject the term “climate change,” most seem able to handle “weather patterns that seem more extreme.” While not succinct, the phrase also conveys the sense that agriculture is facing something new.

What’s new, according to the USDA’s recent report, isn’t just warmer temperatures; it’s also “extreme precipitation events” — heavier and longer rains, downpours that push rivers over their banks and into adjacent fields. In addition, some agricultural pests and diseases flourish in warmer temperatures, posing more threats to farming.

Winners and Losers

While the something new facing Arkansas agriculture presents challenges, it also presents potential benefits. There will be winners and losers in climate change, but it’s much too soon to predict who those will be.

Last year, for example, weather winners in Arkansas were growers of soybeans, corn and rice, which had record yields, and cotton, whose yield was the third-highest on record.



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