The challenge that developed nations must deal with is well known. By 2050 the population of the world will be between 9and 10 billion people. To feed that many people, farmers around the world must produce more food between now and then than they have produced since the beginning of time. A big part of that equation will be how Mother Nature deals with the world’s climate in the intervening years.
Recently at one of the Wisconsin Farmers’ Union’s Spring Tour meetings, Craig Edwards, chief meteorologist with the U.S. Weather Service, told the mostly farmer audience that the trend is for rising temperatures with increasing greenhouse gasses. That, he said, will provide one of the challenges to increased food production over the next three to four decades.
At that Eau Claire session, Edwards also declared, “The drought is over in Wisconsin.” The facts and the continuing wet, snowy conditions across the state seem to justify that statement. Edwards said the spring outlook calls for above normal precipitation across the state and upper Midwest for April, May and June. That follows a winter of snowfall that isn’t over yet and has been above normal. In west central Wisconsin, over 73 inches of snow fell this past winter and spring. That is about 27 inches above normal and one of the 10 snowiest winters ever. The record snowfall for western Wisconsin was the 89.3 inches that fell in the winter of 1996-97. Looking at the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, it now has removed southern and south central parts of Wisconsin from the abnormally dry category while the rest of the state is now in some stage of moderate drought, but that is expected to change when the updated drought monitor comers out this week.
Besides rainfall, temperatures are another major factor in farmers’ success in the future. 2012 was the 10th warmest year since the 1880s, according to Edwards, and March 2012 was the warmest March on record with temperatures that month 15 ½ degrees warmer than normal. But as farmers said at that recent Farmers” Union meeting, “that was last year.” This spring farmers all over the state are worried about planting dates as snow remains in many areas and residual frost is still a problem preventing the melting snow from soaking in to the fields recovering from the hot, dry growing season of 2012.
Edwards said many weather watchers blame our recent weather on climate change or global warming. He pointed out that there is a difference between the two. He referred to climate change as being what happens over time while those changes cause a phenomenon like global warming. The thing, he pointed out to the audience, is that every 10 years we are dealing with a new normal. He explained that, “We have now replaced the ‘70s weather facts and figures with the same information from the first 10 years of the new century and that has meant our overall temperature at our latitude in the upper Midwest has increased by three degrees, especially during winter months.”
He also showed how global warming advocates make their point, citing the increase in greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere as everyone leaves a carbon footprint on our environment. In Wisconsin we are seeing higher temperatures and more intense weather events than ever before. As an example of that he alluded to the Lake Delton 12 inch rainfall deluge of a few years ago that washed the lake away. And he cited other such Midwest events that have also caused severe damage in southeast Wisconsin, Duluth and Rochester, Minnesota.
The global warming challenge in the future, Edwards pointed out, will come from the increase in carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere and the resultant rising temperatures. Agriculture has a place in some of those events. As we grow more crops, he said, in more northern climates and work with more intensive cropping systems, those mature plants will give off more “evapo-transpiration” meaning more dew points into the 70s, causing more humidity, and when combined with higher temperatures, as the trends indicate, we will have to learn to deal with more frequent and more intense storm events. He said more superstorms like tornadoes and hurricanes will occur much more often.
He also said people shouldn’t panic about temperatures rising too fast. His records show that there have only been about 6 days over 100 degrees in the Twin Cities since 1998.