USDA reports synthesize literature on climate change effects

Published on: Feb 6, 2013

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released two comprehensive reports Feb. 5 that synthesize the scientific literature on climate change effects and adaptation strategies for U.S. agriculture and forests.

The reports, entitled "Climate Change & Agriculture: Effects & Adaptation" and the "Effects of Climate Variability & Change on Forest Ecosystems: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis for the U.S. Forest Sector," were created as inputs to the National Climate Assessment. Scientists from the federal service, universities, non-governmental organizations, industry, tribal lands and the private sector contributed to the peer-reviewed studies.

"These reports present the challenges that U.S. agriculture and forests will face in this century from global climate change," said William Hohenstein, director of the climate change program office in USDA's Office of the Chief Economist. "They give us a framework for understanding the implications of climate change, in order to meet our future demands for food, feed, fiber and fuel."

The reports indicate how climate change is affecting U.S. farms, forests, grasslands and rural communities. While U.S. agriculture and resource management have long histories of successful adaptation to climate variability, USDA said the accelerating pace and intensity of climate change presents new challenges to be addressed, as highlighted in the reports.

For example, USDA said the agricultural report indicates increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns will affect agricultural productivity. Climate change will exacerbate the stresses already occurring from weeds, insects and disease. Increases in the incidence of extreme weather events will have an increasing influence on agricultural productivity.

The reports also explore the potential for adaptive practices to reduce the negative effects of climate change and to potentially take advantage of new opportunities in the forestry and agriculture sectors, USDA said. Successful adaptation will require research to identify management practices that enhance the resilience of these systems to climate change effects, develops stress-tolerant plant and animal varieties and establishes new approaches to conserve soil and water resources.