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Report fosters ag industry climate-change tracking

Art DeGaetano, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, is one of nine scientists who have co-authored a report to help the nation’s farmers, producers and commercial agricultural managers reduce risk in the face of climate change.

“We present a foundational report on how to keep the pulse on climate change in agriculture, what climate change indicators to watch, and how the indicators may change,” said DeGaetano, who is also a fellow in the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

The report, “Climate Indicators for Agriculture,” was released July 29 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Cornell impacting New York State

Since agriculture is sensitive to temperatures, precipitation, frost timing, pests and many other factors, climate change significantly influences agricultural productivity and agricultural management decisions.

The report identifies 20 statistical indicators of climate change, in five categories, that will help agricultural professionals address regional needs.

The categories are:

  • Physical indicators – climate variables such as extreme precipitation, soil moisture, nighttime air temperature, heat waves and humidity, all of which have direct ties to agricultural production and food systems;
  • Crop and livestock indicators – measuring factors such as animal heat stress and the ability to grow new crops in regions;
  • Biological indicators – the range and infestation intensity of weeds, pests, disease vectors and pesticide use that affect crop production; and livestock management influenced by temperature, precipitation and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations;
  • Phenological indicators – seasonal activities affected by climate conditions, such as flowering and pollination dates for a given crop; timing of budbreak in fruit trees; winter chill measurements; and insect generations per season; and
  • Socioeconomic indicators – human and economic factors in agriculture such as crop insurance payments; net productivity; and the heat-related mortality of agricultural workers.

“The report was intended to appeal to a wide variety of audiences,” DeGaetano said. “We wanted to pick the indicators that were relevant to different agricultural sectors and sections around the country.”

DeGaetano is a faculty member in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, which is jointly housed in the College of Engineering and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Co-authors included Peter Backlund, Colorado State University; Lawrence Buja, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado; Rachel Melnick, Agriculture and Food Systems Institute; Linda S. Prokopy, Purdue University; Eugene Takle, Iowa State University; and Margaret Walsh, Dennis Todey and Lewis Ziska, all with the USDA.

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Jeff Tyson