Predicting the Impact of Climate Change on Agricultural Production

On August 23, 2009 ECSGA Executive Director Bob Rheault participated in a workshop held by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture to evaluate the risks associated with climate change as they pertain to the various agricultural crops produced in the state.

The session started with a review of the latest projections on what to expect in the next 20 to 80 years. Projections of a Virginia-like climate with 20 to 50 feet of sea level rise were predicted to lead to more invasions of non-native species and more frequent and intense storms. Ocean acidification was not even mentioned.

Managers and farmers from every sector of the state's agriculture industry broke out into groups to try to predict how these changes would impact their sectors. At the end of the day the results were summarized and most producers were surprisingly sanguine about the potential impacts.

For instance chickens are raised all over the earth, and we will probably be able to adapt our growing methods to accommodate the gradual changes in climate. There may be issues with more or different diseases, but no grower group was predicting calamity, with many looking forward to longer growing seasons and milder winters.

However, shellfish producers expect some of the biggest challenges. We expect increasing temperatures will bring more frequent and more intense outbreaks of parasitic disease (as in the Chesapeake) and will exacerbate hypoxic conditions in Long Island Sound. Rising sea level will displace many of our shoreside facilities, while worsening storms will cause losses.

While we are sure that the oceans will be more acidic (pH is projected to drop another 0.2 units in 30 to 50 years) it is not yet clear whether this will have the devastating impact that many are predicting.

Hopefully researchers working on this issue will be able to answer this question in the near future.