Rural agriculture

Climate Implications - Rural Agriculture

Climate change significantly impacts agriculture in the Midwest. Agriculture provides jobs and drives local economies in many rural communities. Due to a closer relationship and dependency on the land, these communities directly experience the effects of climate impacts in many facets of their lives.

Increased average rainfall during the winter and spring months and decreased average rainfall during summer and fall are critical climate trends for Midwestern agriculture. The unpredictability of rainfall and increased precipitation creates problems for agriculture as it floods fields and disrupts planting schedules, growth rates, and harvesting schedules.

As warmer days increase and colder days decrease, on average, growing seasons are lengthening. However, opportunities for the agricultural industry may be diminished by increasingly unpredictable weather that stresses crops. For example, longer warm seasons provide more time for pests and diseases to plague crops and livestock. Increased average temperature can lead to reduced grain weight and crop yield as plants respire more. Increased heat also stresses livestock, creating health issues.

Certain agricultural practices leave bare soil during certain months. Bare soil can result in a loss of organic matter that helps plants grow while also not absorbing as much water during precipitation events causing increased damages from flooding. This loss in organic matter and lack of roots in the soil will reduce the water holding capacity, leading to additional losses of nutrients in the soil, erosion, and a reduced capacity to deal with flooding.

Finally, increased temperatures create health impacts for those working in agriculture, including heat stroke which can be fatal. Longer warm seasons drive pests and increase the need for pesticide use, which creates long-term health problems for farmworkers who are constantly exposed to these chemicals. Additionally, there is some evidence that when someone is already experiencing heat stress, they are more vulnerable to the toxicity of pesticides. Thus, there is a particular risk to the 2.4 million migrant farmworkers who often do not have access to healthcare, are subject to poor living conditions that do not offer shelter from the heat, and are inadequately protected by worker rights and protection laws.