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Rising Temperatures Threaten U.S. Farm Income: Report

A new study reveals the staggering financial toll of climate change on American agriculture, showing a direct correlation between extreme heat and crop yield reductions, emphasising the urgent need for resilient strategies.

KJ Staff
The report underscores the role of risk management practices in mitigating the impact of extreme heat on net farm income.  (Picture Courtesy: Pexels)
The report underscores the role of risk management practices in mitigating the impact of extreme heat on net farm income. (Picture Courtesy: Pexels)

A report on the consequences of climate change reveals the economic toll it is taking on American farmers. The study, a collaboration between the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, New York; the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), New York and Kansas State University, Manhattan delves into 39 years of data from nearly 7,000 Kansas farms, revealing that for every 1 degree Celsius of warming, major crop yields plummet by 16 percent to 20 percent. This results in a 7 percent decline in gross farm income and a staggering 66 percent drop in net farm income.

Extreme Heat Hits Crop Yields and Finances

The analysis underscores the role of risk management practices in mitigating the impact of extreme heat on net farm income. Crop insurance emerges as the most significant buffer, helping farmers recover 51 percent of net losses. The report emphasises that while farmers employ various coping mechanisms, income-smoothing predominantly relies on government programs. This reliance on external support is highlighted as a striking factor, revealing the vulnerability of the agricultural sector to climate-related shocks.

Kansas as a Microcosm

The findings extend beyond Kansas, serving as a stark warning for farms nationwide. Kansas, chosen as an example due to its diverse growing conditions, witnessed a substantial increase in extreme heat days from 1981 to 2020. Climate models project a further surge in hot days, raising concerns about the impact on staple crops. The state's experience becomes a microcosm of the broader challenges faced by U.S. agriculture.

The report points out that global agricultural productivity is currently 20 percent lower than it would have been without human-induced climate change. Despite a decades-long trend of 1.5 percent annual productivity growth in the U.S. agricultural sector, climate change has disrupted this trajectory. The study indicates that the prolonged growing season resulting from increased temperatures does not compensate for the losses incurred due to extreme heat, challenging previous expectations.

Recommendations for Resilience

To enhance farms' resilience, the report advocates for collaborative efforts. It calls on agricultural lending institutions to support farmers in climate change adaptation investments. Additionally, it urges increased research and education from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, land-grant universities, and the private sector. The Federal Crop Insurance Program is encouraged to assist farmers in implementing climate-resilient measures while continuing to provide financial buffers.

Vincent Gauthier, Manager of Climate-Smart Agriculture at EDF, emphasises the need for proactive financial and risk management solutions. The study recommends that lenders, insurers, and federal programs address short-term risks for farmers, enabling a smooth transition to climate-resilient production systems. Developing and implementing strategies to support farmers through this crucial shift is deemed essential to uphold agricultural production while minimising climate risks.

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