Climate change has the potential to adversely impact agricultural productivity at local, regional, and continental scales through alterations in rainfall patterns, more frequent occurrences of climate extremes (including high temperatures or drought), and altered patterns of pest pressure. Risks associated with climate change depend on the rate and severity of the change and the ability of producers to adapt to changes. These adaptations include altering what is produced, modifying the inputs used for production, adopting new technologies, and adjusting management strategies.
U.S. agricultural production relies heavily on the Nation’s land, water, and other natural resources, and these resources are affected directly by agricultural practices and by climate. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme precipitation events in many regions in the United States. Because increased precipitation extremes elevate the risk of surface runoff, soil erosion, and the loss of soil carbon, additional protective measures are needed to safeguard the progress that has been made in reducing soil erosion and water quality degradation through the implementation of grassed waterways, cover crops, conservation tillage, and waterway protection strips.
Climate change impacts, such as changes in extreme weather conditions, have a complex influence on human and livestock health. The consequences of climate change on the incidence of drought also impact the frequency and intensity of wildfires, and this holds implications for agriculture and rural communities. Rural populations are the stewards of most of the Nation’s forests, watersheds, rangelands, agricultural land, and fisheries. Much of the rural economy is closely tied to the natural environment. Rural residents, and the lands they manage, have the potential to make important economic and conservation contributions to climate change mitigation and adaptation, but their capacity to adapt is impacted by a host of demographic and economic concerns.
Agriculture and Rural Communities: Key Messages
- Agricultural Productivity
Food and forage production will decline in regions experiencing increased frequency and duration of drought. Shifting precipitation patterns, when associated with high temperatures, will intensify wildfires that reduce forage on rangelands, accelerate the depletion of water supplies for irrigation, and expand the distribution and incidence of pests and diseases for crops and livestock. Modern breeding approaches and the use of novel genes from crop wild relatives are being employed to develop higher-yielding, stress-tolerant crops.
- Soil & Water Resources
The degradation of critical soil and water resources will expand as extreme precipitation events increase across our agricultural landscape. Sustainable crop production is threatened by excessive runoff, leaching, and flooding, which results in soil erosion, degraded water quality in lakes and streams, and damage to rural community infrastructure. Management practices to restore soil structure and the hydrologic function of landscapes are essential for improving resilience to these challenges.
- Health Challenges
Challenges to human and livestock health are growing due to the increased frequency and intensity of high temperature extremes. Extreme heat conditions contribute to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and heart attacks in humans. Heat stress in livestock results in large economic losses for producers. Expanded health services in rural areas, heat-tolerant livestock, and improved design of confined animal housing are all important advances to minimize these challenges.
- Vulnerability & Adaptive Capacity
Residents in rural communities often have limited capacity to respond to climate change impacts, due to poverty and limitations in community resources. Communication, transportation, water, and sanitary infrastructure are vulnerable to disruption from climate stressors. Achieving social resilience to these challenges would require increases in local capacity to make adaptive improvements in shared community resources.
The “Agriculture and Rural Communities” publication is available as a downloadable PDF at Link to Source…