Skeptic or not, according to a consensus of climate scientists and New Mexico agricultural officials, early indications of climate change are already apparent through variations in climate patterns that are challenging the region's agricultural producers and may be a prelude to more substantial and widespread changes in the near future.
New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service agronomist John Idowu says the best way farmers and ranchers can mitigate or even survive challenges created by these changes is to better understand them and plan more efficient ways to deal with agricultural production in a more hostile environment.
“Farmers and other agricultural stakeholders need to develop agricultural systems resilient to expected changes, some of which have already begun,” Idowu said.
Climatologists and other agricultural planners agree that the cycle of droughts in the southwestern United States has increased over the past decades, supported by yet another and more recent study indicating the Southwest may have already transitioned to a drier climate that could plague producers for years to come.
They say solar radiation, temperature, and precipitation changes are the main drivers of crop growth and yields, and all three conditions have undergone changes in recent years. The prospects look dismal for the years ahead.
Preparing for such changes, while not an easy task, could be the only way to meet the challenge of a changing climate, and Idowu says an upcoming workshop in November may represent the best starting point for producers concerned about drier conditions and the prospect of other challenges associated with climate change.
CONFERENCE TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE
The New Mexico Sustainable Agricultural Conference, “Building Climate-Resilient Agriculture in New Mexico,” is a good starting point for producers grasping for knowledge on how best to prepare for drier times ahead. The conference is designed to provide information that will help farmers plan for the challenging future by helping them understand the challenges they are facing and discovering what can be done to survive the change. The event is sponsored by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education agency.
The free conference will be held from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30, at the University of New Mexico, Valencia Campus, 280 La Entrada Road, Los Lunas. Free lunch will be provided.
“Many agricultural systems are not yet prepared to address this issue,” Idowu said. “Some of the significant impacts of climate change in arid and semi-arid ecosystems, like New Mexico, may include temperature increases, increasing CO2 levels, and altered patterns of precipitation.”
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According to the latest National Climate Assessment and the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the Southwest is the hottest and driest region in the United States, where availability of water has defined its landscapes, history of human settlement, and modern economy.
Climate changes pose challenges for an already parched region that is expected to get hotter and, in its southern half, significantly drier. Increased heat and changes in rainfall and snowpack will send ripple effects throughout the region’s critical agriculture sector, affecting the lives and economies of 56 million people – a population that is expected to increase 68 percent by 2050, to 94 million.
WATER RESOURCES WILL BE STRESSED
Severe and sustained drought will stress water sources, already over-utilized in many areas, forcing increased competition among farmers, energy producers, urban dwellers, and plant and animal life for the region’s most precious resource.
Idowu says discussion on adapting crop production systems to cope with these changes through specific farm practices that can enhance sustainability will be among topics covered at the conference.
“This single-day conference will help strengthen the readiness of New Mexico producers and agricultural support professionals on how production systems can be directed toward resiliency to climate change and future uncertainties,” he adds.
Specific issues to be addressed during the conference include field crops, vegetables, and tree crops production in a changing climate. Other aspects that will be discussed include weeds, pest and disease expectations, and irrigation water availability and management.
For more about WSARE, visit the website.
For information about the conference, contact Idowu at [email protected].
To register for the conference online, visit http://rsvp.nmsu.edu/rsvp/sutainable2016.