Arkansas Farmers Face New Challenges with Climate Change

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

Those crops benefited from a warm spring, a longer growing season and plentiful irrigation that counteracted the intense drought. The total value of production of the main field crops in Arkansas in 2012 totaled $5.22 billion, a 23 percent increase over the $4.25 billion in 2011. Rice, soybeans and corn accounted for 80 percent of that total value, according to the Arkansas Crop Values Report, released on Feb. 15.

The state’s main row crops were able to overcome the worst effects of summer’s nationwide drought. As of Sept. 12, more than 2,000 counties in the United States had been declared disaster areas by the federal Agriculture Department. Arkansas’ hay and cattle growers were among those agriculture interests devastated by drought, making them losers in the climate calculus.

The biggest challenge to Arkansas agriculture, most agree, will be its continued access to sufficient water.

“As long as you’ve got plenty of water, well you just keep giving [the crop] more water and you may actually see a benefit from warmer warms because you get to plant earlier,” Matlock said. “But the problem with that is if you’re running out of water, scarcity induces a crisis, and we may see that in Arkansas.”

Matlock hopes Arkansas farmers keep an open mind and pay attention to the data, which he trusts them to do.

“Every farm is an experimental unit. Every farmer becomes a scientist,” he says. “And if that sounds big and grandiose, it’s not. It’s pretty much land-grant vision 101. That’s what we’ve been trying to do for 160 years.”

Farmers “shouldn’t be afraid of data, theirs or anybody else’s,” Matlock says.

Eddington, of the Farm Bureau, in acknowledging the unfortunate politicization of climate change, assures that farmers understand that science is a friend to farming, not an enemy.

“The Earth’s pretty resilient and climate’s pretty resilient and humans are too,” Matlock says. “But we better understand it if we’re going to be sustainable, if we’re going to stay prosperous.”

He adds: “We don’t always have to agree on everything in order to make good decisions. What we have to find is where our agreement points are to make good decisions and work from those. It’s a foundation for our democracy and for scientists. Scientists often disagree, but we find the things we agree on and we move from there.”

Seeking the Half-Full Glass

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s report on climate change lays out the agency’s evidence for the phenomenon as well as some strategies for dealing with it. It also recognizes the uncertainty and controversy surrounding the issue and the potential for economic winners and losers.



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