U.S. farmers and ranchers must adapt or risk getting left behind as climate change becomes an increasingly influential part of the agricultural landscape, the head of the U.S. Agriculture Department said Wednesday.
During a speech in Washington, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said better technological advancements through products such as seed so far have been enough to maintain production levels despite more intense storms, forest fires and an increase in invasive species.
But Vilsack, who served two terms as Iowa’s governor, called the threat of a changing climate “much different than anything we’ve ever tackled” and warned that without more drastic changes the accelerating pace and intensity of global warming during the next few decades may soon begin to significantly affect agriculture.
“If we do not adapt and mitigate climate impacts, it could have an impact on yields, it could have an impact on where we grow, what we grow in the future,” Vilsack told reporters after a speech on the effects of climate change on agriculture. “This is not something that is a next week issue or a next year issue, but this is something that over the next several decades we’re going to continue to confront.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 2012 was the hottest year ever in the United States since record-keeping began in 1895, surpassing the previous high by a full degree Fahrenheit.
The country was battered by the worst drought to hit the United States in more than 50 years, leaving some crops to wither away in bone-dry fields across the Midwest. Plentiful spring rains have nearly eradicated drought across Iowa. Currently, 2 percent of the state is mired in a drought, compared to all of Iowa at the start of 2013.
Vilsack noted the impact climate change has had on various regions of the country. In the Midwest and Great Plains, the growing season has been extended by nearly two weeks during his lifetime.