Ag faces climate of change

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Farm Forum

PARKER – South Dakota has seen warmer temperatures in recent years, which will continue to affect its agricultural practices, a state official said.

South Dakota state climatologist Dennis Todey spoke during the Southeast Experiment Farm’s annual meeting, held at the Parker Community Center. He noted the long-range findings of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) national climate assessment.

“The NOAA says we’ve seen temperature change during the last 100 years,” he said. “Climate change is real.”

Last year’s cool weather in the state actually contained warming in a different sense, Todey said. He pointed to the statistics for eastern South Dakota from last June, July and August.

“The big difference is in the low temperatures, not the high temperatures,” he said. “We’re warming, but we’re warming differently. We’re seeing higher nighttime temperatures.”

In addition, South Dakota’s cooler summer was not reflective of global warming seen elsewhere around the world, Todey said.

“It was warmer everywhere else but here,” he said. “The eastern two-thirds of the United States was cool, but everybody else was warm. Europe and western Russia saw record warm temperatures. From a global standpoint, it was warm.”

The current warm weather, bringing the January thaw, has occurred for a different reason than normally expected, Todey said.

“I would like to say El Nino and make it easy, but it’s not. We have had a marginal El Nino since last fall,” he said. “The jet stream has more so kept the cold front in Canada and shunted it to the east. We’re taking advantage of it with these warmer temperatures.”

Todey thinks the warming trend will continue. “If I had to say, I would lean on the warm side for February,” he said.

Looking at the bigger picture, Todey said climate change has affected agricultural practices, particularly with the timing of the year. In general, spring and fall are seeing more precipitation, he said.

“We are seeing more changes in the late season, when the corn and beans are still transpiring,” he said.

Even with periods of wetter weather, the U.S. Drought Monitor currently rates most of eastern South Dakota as abnormally dry, Todey said.

South Dakota’s dry condition pales to the drought plaguing California and the Southern Plains, Todey said. California has remained in drought even with a period of heavy rains, he added.

“The California drought has a few more years to go. There isn’t a chance for much recovery this year,” he said. “They won’t have drought issues forever, but they will have water issues.”

Those water issues are affecting California farmers, Todey said.

“In California, the water goes to human consumption, and agriculture in California is going to make changes,” he said.

Midwest farmers could step in and start growing crops that are no longer going to be grown in California and other Western states, Todey said. “Can you do something here that they can’t do there?” he asked his Parker audience.

The nation’s population shifts are also placing more pressure on water resources, Todey said.

“In the Southwest, you’re seeing more people and less water, so do the math,” he said. “States are suing over water rights. We’re lucky that we have water to work with, but people in the West are looking at ways to get our water.”

In general, Todey looks for warmer weather through spring in South Dakota. As far precipitation, the region has had more snow than it appears because the snowfall has melted quickly, and February and early March generally bring large snow events.

“As far as precipitation, there’s some hint at wetter conditions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it, but we’re not going to see it like last year,” he said. “I don’t expect a repeat of the record (crop) yields from last year when it was cool everywhere.”

The Midwest can be grateful for its current balmy weather compared to the storms that rocked New England and the Middle Atlantic states, where some places received upwards of three feet of snow, Todey said.

“Be thankful you’re not in Boston,” he said.

You can follow Randy Dockendorf on Twitter at twitter.com/RDockendorf. Discuss this story at www.yankton.net.