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Climate Report Anticipates Challenges for Iowa Farmers

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The 2013 Iowa Climate Statement says Iowa farmers should anticipate wild swings in the weather in the coming years, which could negatively impact crop and livestock production.

"The purpose of the statement is to show that there are economic impacts that are coming in the future," said Prof. Neil Bernstein with Mt. Mercy University on Tuesday.

More than 150 scientists like Bernstein across the state agree that climate change is happening, and that farmers will need to be prepared to adapt. Extremes of hot to cold and wet to dry will continue to happen.

"The models show that these extremes are increasing over time, and increased especially in the last 10 years or so," Bernstein explained.

As an example, the climate statement uses 2013's swing from a rain-soaked spring to a summer that saw weeks-long periods without rain.

Assoc. Prof. Erin Irish Biology, University of Iowa
"We've had wet summers, we've had dry summers," said Erin Irish, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Iowa. "I don't think anyone expects to have two of those disasters in the same season."

Irish grows corn for research and studies sustainable agriculture practices, like crop diversity. She said farmers should consider those practices to reduce soil erosion, but admits that's easier said than done.

"The way agriculture is conducted here, where there are two major crops, and lot of expensive specialized machinery that people invested a lot of money into purchasing, it's going to be hard to convince them to, say, start growing lima beans instead of soybeans," Irish said.

The statement goes on to say that hot and dry spells will lengthen, affecting production and growth of livestock.

Fred Ochs, Professor of Earth Science at Kirkwood Community College, said that means smaller yields from animals. "You start to lose their muscle mass, and you start to stress the cattle or the hogs."

Ochs said it's clear that climate change is happening. The real question: "Do we do something now that can lessen the cost in the future, or do we wait for the future to happen and pay for it then?"

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