Guest blog: Wisconsin agriculture stressed by climate change

WI Green Fire, March 14, 2023

A shift toward rotational grazing lowers the carbon footprint of the system by reducing grain needed for livestock and increasing stored soil carbon. Photo credit: WDNR
A shift toward rotational grazing lowers the carbon footprint of the system by reducing grain needed for livestock and increasing stored soil carbon. Photo credit: WDNR

The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Initiatives (WICCI) is a nationally recognized collaboration of scientists and stakeholders working together to help foster solutions to climate change in Wisconsin. WICCI formed as a partnership between UW–Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in 2007. Wisconsin’s Green Fire members serve on WICCI’s Forestry Working Group and Agriculture Working Group.

By Dea Larsen Converse

Extreme rain events, wetter springs and falls, groundwater flooding, declining snow cover, winter “thaws,” changing seasons, more frequent extremely hot days, and droughts are among the climate impacts stressing Wisconsin farms in the most recent report from the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI).

“Disruption of farm operations due to volatile weather patterns is increasing health risk and anxiety associated with farming in Wisconsin. With extreme weather becoming more common, the food production systems that support a thriving economy are increasingly at risk.”

The WICCI Agriculture Working Group

Extreme rain events are washing away valuable topsoil, disrupting farm operations, damaging infrastructure, and challenging the conservation practices that have kept soil in place and helped protect water quality. Wetter springs and falls are reducing the ability to get into the fields for spring planting and fall harvesting. During sustained wet periods, groundwater flooding forms new lakes and flooded areas that cause farmland loss. Wetter weather also increases the risk for plant disease on major crops in the state.

While warming in the spring and fall can increase the growing season for some crops, warming during winter can also reduce the formation of ice and snow that cranberries and many other crops need to survive the winter. In addition, warmer winters may allow pests to overwinter more successfully or migrate to Wisconsin from southern states. More summer heat can stress livestock, especially dairy cows, that thrive in cooler conditions and cool nights. Hotter summers and prolonged droughts also increase the need for irrigation.

An increasing reliance on row crop agriculture has increased greenhouse gas emissions. Tillage practices needed for row-crop farms have also reduced soil health and the ability of agricultural soils to store carbon and hold water. All these changes are causing uncertainty for Wisconsin’s agricultural producers.

Yet, there is hope. Today there is a move in agriculture toward keeping fields green year-round, including a shift towards increasing living cover on farm fields and promoting rotational grazing. The WICCI Agricultural Working Group recommends these and other solutions to help Wisconsin agriculture become more climate resilient and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is hope for the future, but it’s up to us.

Read more here.

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