Grant will develop tools to help farmers deal with climate change

August 17, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Climate and growing seasons are changing, and a Michigan State University professor is helping farmers adapt to those changes.

Ask farmers if they believe in climate change and political views tend to temper their responses. However, if asked if they've noticed changes in how weather has affected their work, farmers will cite numerous trends, said Jeff Andresen, MSU associate professor of geography and Michigan's state climatologist.

Last year, growers in Iowa talked about planting crops in March - the first time anyone can remember getting into fields so early. Recent headlines around the Midwest have focused on this summer's intense drought, leaving growers wondering how to better manage sporadic, torrential downpours that wash away fields rather than gently deliver much-needed rain.

Andresen is part of a team of researchers who want to give farmers the necessary tools to help navigate these climate changes, cope with climate variability, and lessen their negative impact on agriculture. The five-year project will be funded by a $5 million grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

"Our goal is to help growers assess risks so they can make better, well-informed decisions," said Andresen, who is also an MSU AgBioResearch scientist. "For example, in Michigan the growing season is not long, but it's becoming longer. We want to help growers identify the best ways to take advantage of this knowledge."

The study, which spans 12 states, from North Dakota to Ohio, will develop models to predict how climate scenarios could affect corn and soybean growth and profits. The study also will identify the best ways to deliver the information to farmers.

This summer saw the U.S. experience the most widespread heat wave in several years. The extremely high temperatures stressed crops (and livestock) and pushed up feed prices while lowering production, Andresen said.

"In order for corn to pollinate, it needs water and seasonable temperatures," Andresen said. "But with this heat we've had, even irrigated fields are stressed. And this isn't an isolated heat wave, either. At times, there have been excessive heat warnings and watches across 30 states."

The team wants to give farmers easy-to-use climate-change projections and other tools that allow them to be successful even when weather is at its worst, he added.
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The research team includes scientists from the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, Purdue University, Iowa State University, the University of Missouri, the University of Michigan and South Dakota State University.

Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

Michigan State University

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