Press Release: New Study Details Effects of Climate Change On U.S. Agriculture

For Immediate Release:
February 10, 1999

Contact: Shannon Hunt / Kelly Sullivan
             (202) 289-5900

New Study Details Effects of Climate Change On U.S. Agriculture

Projected Regional Impacts on Agriculture Outlined: New Report is First in Series Examining Environmental Impacts of Climate Change

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Climate change has the potential to affect livestock and crops, local agricultural economies and crop production trends according to a new report by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, which examines the effects of climate change on agriculture. The report finds that while climate change is not expected to threaten the ability of the U.S. to produce enough food to feed itself through the next century, some U.S. agricultural regions, particularly in the north, are expected to benefit, while others, primarily in the south, could face adverse impacts.

The report, released today at a press conference on Capitol Hill, notes that the resiliency and adaptability of the U.S. agricultural sector has made it one of the country's most productive industries and gives the sector the ability to adapt to the changes associated with climate change. However, the report also finds that there remains a potential for negative effects, and particular regions, especially those in the south, will face greater obstacles in adapting to the challenges posed by climate change.

"Anyone with a stake in agriculture should be interested in the findings of this report, which shows that the farming industry we know today will not be the same in the future under the effects of climate change," said Eileen Claussen, Pew Center Executive Director.

At Wednesday's press conference, Agriculture Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE) both issued statements supporting the Pew Center's efforts to inform American agricultural producers about the potential impacts of climate change.

According to the report, climate change could cause grain yields to fall significantly in southern states, while in the north, longer growing seasons could increase yields of grains such as wheat. Changes in grain production and foraging regions could also cause shifts in the locations of livestock production. Uncertainty in the models does not allow precision in identifying localized effects.

The study finds that in order to develop the most accurate and credible assessment of the possible impacts of climate change, it is important to consider adaptation and human response, as well as to continue to develop improved climate change forecasts. But, given the potential impacts, farmers and the agricultural community must consider new strategies in the face of uncertainty.

The report states that the emerging consensus from modeling studies is that the net effects on U.S. agriculture, with a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, may be small. But, these models may understate long-range impacts if the rate or magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions exceed projected levels. For example, extreme events - such as storms, droughts and early and late frosts caused by climate change - also could play a role in determining the ultimate impact of climate change on agriculture.

Additionally, secondary impacts of climate change, such as the potential for higher ozone levels, impacts on water resources and pest populations, contribute to the uncertainty and pose additional challenges not only to individual producers, but also larger agricultural economies.

The value of U.S. agricultural commodities exceeds $165 billion at the farm level and over $500 billion after processing and marketing. "The role of the U.S. agricultural sector is too important for us to ignore these findings," said Claussen. "The agricultural community can adapt to climate change, but adaptation takes time and resources, and with uncertainties related to the timing and magnitude of temperature changes, not all opportunities for adaptation are likely to be realized."

This report is the first in a series of environmental impact reports slated to be released by the Pew Center this year. Other reports in this series will assess what is known about the impact of climate change on weather and includes analyses of its impact on water resources, coastal areas, human health, ecosystems, and forests.

A copy of the report, "A Review of Impacts to U.S. Agricultural Resources," is available on the Pew Center web site at www.c2es.org.

The Pew Center was established in May 1998 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the nation's largest philanthropies and an influential voice in efforts to improve the quality of America's environment. The Pew Center is conducting studies, launching public education efforts, promoting climate change solutions globally and working with businesses to develop marketplace solutions to reduce greenhouse gases. The Pew Center is led by Eileen Claussen the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.