Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation

Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation

Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation

Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation

Excerpt

The economic impacts of climate change occur at multiple scales and with a complex array of feedback loops. While the biophysical effects of climate change play out locally through the direct and indirect (abiotic and biotic) stress factors described earlier, the economic implications of those effects are shaped by an array of local, national, and global institutions, from commodity markets to systems of research, development, education, communication, and transportation. These institutions define the opportunities and constraints within which stakeholders can adjust their behavior to minimize losses and take advantage of new opportunities for gain associated with changing climate conditions. Potential adaptive behavior can occur at any level within a highly diverse agricultural system, including consumption, production, education, and research. The aggregate effects of climate change will therefore ultimately depend on a web of diffuse adaptive responses to local climate stressors, from farmers adjusting planting patterns in response to altered crop yields to seed producers investing in drought-tolerant varieties to nations changing trade restrictions in response to food security concerns.

The complexity of possible adaptive response pathways makes it extremely difficult to characterize all of the potential steps and feedback loops leading from local climate effects on yield (or on increased costs necessary to maintain yields) to regional or global effects on economic indicators such as prices, production, trade volume, consumer expenditures, or producer income and financial viability. U.S. and global agricultural markets are highly interconnected, and trade will result in a redistribution of agricultural products from regions of relative surplus to regions of relative scarcity (Adams et al. 1998). The economic implications of climate change for the United States will therefore be sensitive to yield effects and adaptation opportunities and constraints both within the United States and worldwide. An even broader set of social and political variables is required to

Economic versus Biophysical Impacts on Agricultural Productivity

Biophysical impacts on productivity are localized phenomena that are largely driven by local variations
in weather impacts and mediated by local soil and water conditions. Economic impacts, on the other
hand, are embedded within a complex and regionally diffuse web of production, price, consumption,
and trade responses to those local productivity impacts. U.S. and global agricultural markets are highly
interconnected, so economic impacts within the United States are sensitive to biophysical impacts,
behavioral responses among consumers and producers, and adaptation opportunities and constraints
both within the United States and worldwide. Managing the impacts of climate change on U.S. agriculture
is an interdisciplinary challenge that may be most effectively addressed using systems research strategies
to integrate and develop disciplinary knowledge.

Example: Climate change can impact the livestock sector along a number of pathways: directly through
impacts on productivity and performance and indirectly through price and availability of feed grains,
competition for pasture land, and changing patterns and prevalence of pests and diseases. These
pathways parallel those of crop production impact, and the two sectors are strongly linked through feed
grain markets and competition for land.

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