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Warmer Indiana to be wetter, Purdue prof says

November 11, 2018

Indiana is likely to become warmer and wetter in the next 20 to 70 years because of the impact of global climate change : and those differences have the potential to scramble the state’s important agriculture industry.

That’s what agricultural hydrologist Laura Bowling of Purdue University said Saturday afternoon in Fort Wayne during a talk at the Allen County Public Library. 

Bowling reviewed the conclusions of a subsection of the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment on agriculture. One of a team of 100 researchers examining impacts from potential global warming on areas from human health to energy and aquatic ecosystems to tourism and recreation, Bowling served as lead author of the agriculture report.

“The goal is to be nonpartisan and supply objective, science-based information,” she said of the report, which is being rolled out as sections are finished.

Bowling said that while Indiana’s average temperature rose 1.2 degrees in the last century, it is expected to rise 5 to 6 degrees by the middle of this century and beyond.

That could make the state’s climate more like western Kentucky’s under the best scenario to southeastern Texas’ under the worst.

The warmer weather would continue to increase rainfall amounts, which have gone up 5.6 inches over the last century. Rainfall may rise 6 to 8 percent in upcoming decades because warmer temperatures encourage more evaporation, the report found. 

Warmer temperatures likely will result in longer growing season, with the minimum soil temperature for planting being pushed back up to 27 days earlier, Bowling said.

But a shift in precipitation patterns may cancel out benefits.

Springs and winters will likely be wetter, with more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow, Bowling said. So, although the soil might be warm, it will also be too wet to put crops in the ground, she said. 

Bowling said it’s anticipated that both corn and soybean yields will be lower, although soybeans may be less affected.

Raising animals will also be affected, Bowling said.

Forage will tend to be of lower quality, with more fiber and less nutrition,  she said. Warmer temperatures will mean more heat stress on animals, unless farmers are willing to spend money to install more air conditioning and ventilation in barns.

Climate change also is likely to allow more weeds, including invasive species, and pests to flourish. The change also could encourage more and different diseases, she said.

Certain popular and successful varieties of apples, peaches and grapes “may no longer be grown because of increasing pest impacts,” Bowling said, adding that a researcher colleague already has seen increasing numbers of unusual apple diseases.

Even labor capacity may dip because of more days with high heat and longer heat waves, she added. 

Breeding advances and using different strains of crops, better soil and water management and innovative farming techniques such as cover crops or no-till agriculture may mitigate some of the changes, the report concludes.

Bowling said she expects agriculture to remain a viable Indiana industry. 

Indiana is 11th in the nation for agricultural products sold, which make up $31 billion of the state’s economy, according to Purdue experts.

Bowling said she sees the report as “a wake-up call.”

“Our message is that there are a lot of challenges ahead,” she said.  

rsalter@jg.net

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