CORVALLIS - Possible warming of the Earth's average temperature in the next century actually may be good news for agricultural production in the Northwest, according to a new scientific report.
Rich Adams, an agricultural economist at Oregon State University and an internationally recognized expert on the effects of climate on agriculture, is the principle author of the new report, titled "Agriculture and Global Climate Change."
The report predicts that if temperatures increase by four to five degrees Fahrenheit, as many scientists expect, the result will be regional agricultural winners and losers. Under this scenario, a longer growing season and higher dioxide levels in the Pacific Northwest and the northern tier of states could increase crop yields to 135 percent of 1990 totals.
By contrast, southern and eastern states could see crop losses of 10 to 25 percent as a result of expected higher temperatures and lower rainfall in those regions. The report also cautions that more frequent droughts, floods and other extreme weather events are likely to effect agricultural production in all regions, including the Northwest.
As other industries see more regulations enacted to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Adams said agriculture is likely to be among the few industries that not only will be able to help minimize carbon dioxide levels, but could benefit economically at the same time.
"The good thing is, we have some time to plan for possible changes in climate," Adams said. "Current discussions about possible climate change effects represent an effort to start people thinking about possible responses."
For example, growers could benefit themselves and the effort to reduce harmful production of greenhouse gases by growing biofuels that burn cleanly. Planning could begin immediately to shift agricultural transportation and storage facilities to the regions likely to see increased agriculture. And researchers at land grant universities such as OSU could develop more crop varieties adjusted warmer temperatures.
Discussion of other ways that agriculture can reduce the buildup of greenhouse gases already has begun. For example, growers could reduce their overall emission of carbon dioxide through no-till farming methods and by switching to non-petroleum fuels to run farm equipment.
Farmers also could plant trees and improve wetlands on their land to create what are called "carbon sinks" that actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Such activities would have other environmental benefits, such as increased wildlife habitat and reduced erosion.
National leaders such as Sen. Bob Kerrey , D-Neb., support creation of an international permitting system to trade in carbon dioxide emissions. The farmers then could sell their "saved" emission allowances to utilities and other industries that emit carbon dioxide.
Adams said creation of so-called "carbon markets" could provide income opportunities for agricultural producers and have the added benefit of being far less expensive for utilities than retrofitting technology to reduce their emission of carbon dioxide.
Adams' co-authors on the report were Brian Hurd of Stratus Consulting Inc. in Boulder, Colo., and John Reilly of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. The report was funded by The Pew Center on Global Climate Change. The center has made the full text of the report available on the Internet at www.pewclimate.org.