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Adapting to Climate Change and Drought Risk

Posted by Steve Wallander, Resource and Rural Economics Division, Economic Research Service in Conservation
Feb 21, 2017
Some regions of the United States seem to experience drought more often and more severely. Farmers in more drought-prone regions are adapting to their higher exposure. Photo Credit: Shutterstock.
Some regions of the United States seem to experience drought more often and more severely. Farmers in more drought-prone regions are adapting to their higher exposure. Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Economists working on climate change spend a lot of time trying to predict how farmers are going to adapt.  Without knowing how farmers will react to higher average temperatures or different rainfall patterns, we cannot accurately say what climate change will mean for the future.  Farmers have many adaptation options available.  They can change the mix of crops they grow, as well as their production practices, and production might be redistributed across regions. The Economic Research Service (ERS) has looked at potential impacts including how some regions will be impacted through commodity price changes resulting from climate-driven crop acreage changes farmers make in other regions.

Today’s climate is an important driver of current conservation program outcomes.  Perhaps in no aspect of climate is this influence greater than in the risk of drought.

When it comes to drought, not all regions are equal.  Certainly at some point, every region of the country has experienced severe impacts from drought.  Some regions, though, seem to experience drought more often and more severely.  Through production decisions, financial decisions, and even USDA program participation decisions, farmers in more drought-prone regions have adapted to some extent, to their higher exposure to drought risk.

In a recent Economic Research Service study, we examined how drought risk influences participation in Federal conservation programs.  We recognized that many soil and water conservation practices USDA promotes for environmental benefits also help farmers reduce their vulnerability to drought risk.  We found that farmers in more drought-prone regions are indeed more likely than those in other areas to offer eligible land for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program.  Irrigators in more drought-prone regions are more likely to enroll irrigation practices in the Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQIP).  And crop farms in such regions are more likely to elect EQIP’s conservation tillage practices, which can help to conserve soil moisture.  We then demonstrated how these regional differences in participation interact with various aspects of program design.

Looking toward future research, we hope to incorporate predictions of climatologists and hydrologists on which regions of the county will see increased drought risk – as well as other changes in their climate - in the future.

Category/Topic: Conservation

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Comments

Klimat-A.com
Jun 12, 2013

It's true about this: "Today’s climate is an important driver of current conservation program outcomes."

waterdog1
Jun 13, 2013

Here in New Mexico, we are beginning to see the effects of short-sighted water mgmt. Towns and ranches are drying up. By mid-July, the Rio Grande will be DRY until this time next year. So, then it's the Rio Sandy...Bye,bye economy.

Dr Amit Goswami
Jun 26, 2013

we have to reduce the global warming. the change of climate is totally depends on it.

Michelle Miller
Sep 10, 2013

We would love to work with you on such research projects. Not only is drought of concern, so are extreme rainfall events, abnormal temperature patterns (such as winter thaw), mismatching between species that rely on one another, etc.. I've been working with a number of scientists on campus and horticultural farmers to propose projects with a risk analysis component. Are there research opportunities with you? --Michelle Miller, UW-CIAS www.cias.wisc.edu