By Matthew Weaver
Dryland wheat crops will do better than researchers originally assumed as the climate changes, according to a scientist who took part in a $20 million, six-year regional study of cereal crop production systems.
Climate models for the inland Pacific Northwest call for warmer weather with drier summers and slightly wetter winters, according to Claudio Stockle, Washington State University professor of biological systems engineering. He was among 279 scientists at WSU, the University of Idaho and Oregon State University who took part in the recently completed Regional Approaches to Climate Change for Pacific Northwest Agriculture project, known by the acronym REACCH.
Such conditions would likely decrease yields, especially for spring cereal crops, Stockle wrote in his study summary.
“However, the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that are driving global warming also have direct beneficial effects on crops, promoting crop growth and improving water-use efficiency,” he wrote. “This effect, sometimes referred to as ‘CO2 fertilization,’ might mean that the future of dryland agriculture is better than it is assumed to be when considering climate warming alone.”
Higher winter and spring temperatures allow for earlier planting and will benefit winter crop growth, according to Stockle’s study. Earlier maturity of winter and spring crops would help them survive “the more extreme and damaging” summer heat.
Stockle’s study compared low and high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to baseline crop yields from 1979 to 2010.
Wheat yields in lower levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warming were projected to have small and steady increases until the end of the century.
At higher carbon dioxide levels, wheat yields were projected to increase to mid-century and then decline by the end of the century, to levels similar to the baseline, according to Stockle’s report, which was one of dozens of studies undertaken.
REACCH director Sanford Eigenbrode said the project was designed to enhance the sustainability of cereal production systems in the inland Pacific Northwest.
He emphasized collaboration among researchers. Those collaborations will continue, including a meeting in March 2018 to provide an update on research still to be completed.
Eigenbrode compared the cost of a single $20 million project like REACCH to the cost of 20 $1 million individual USDA-funded projects or 40 $500,000 projects all working on their own.
“We can’t claim necessarily to have discovered things that would never have been discovered without REACCH, but we can claim we have understood the system as a whole in a way that never could have been accomplished,” he said.
Genesee, Idaho, farmer Eric Odberg said his involvement in the project supported his decision to use no-till production.
“We’ve had greater extremes in our weather over my 25-year farming career,” he said. “The farming tactic that I’ve deployed has allowed my farm to weather those extremes better, being able to get by with less moisture and have less fertilizer where I don’t need it.”
A book, “Advances in Dryland Farming in the Pacific Northwest,” is slated for publication this year. Eigenbrode intends the 11-chapter book to be “the go-to place for information,” printed and online, for cereal farmers.
“It should be quite useful by anyone, regardless of their views, positions or level of concern about climate change,” he said.
A 2012 REACCH survey found that 80 percent of growers agreed that they have observed weather patterns changing in their lifetime, but only 39 percent agreed that the average global temperature is increasing.
Most farmers — about 79 percent — do not believe human activity is the primary cause of climate change. The public is roughly 42 percent likely to believe climate change is human-caused and not a natural occurrence. Nine hundred producers participated in the survey.
Eigenbrode said the project was not intended to change farmers’ minds. If it was, he said, he would not have been involved in it.
“We’re about doing good science for good farming,” he said.
See the report at http://bit.ly/2n2rTrN
This article appeared on the Capital Press website at http://www.capitalpress.com/Research/20170307/wheat-will-do-better-than-assumed-as-climate-changes-study-predicts