Climate change means challenges for Florida agriculture: scientist
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05/16/14 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Friday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: agriculture, climate change, farms, Florida

Large_sunflowers_at_sweetwater_organic_farm_seank_2011_april_30

Agriculture in Florida -- like Tampa's Sweetwater Organic Farm, where these sunflowers were photographed -- will have to deal with consequences of climate change.


photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF News (April 2011).


You’ve probably heard about changes that could be in store because of climate change to sea levels, summer heat waves and intense hurricanes; but how will disruptions to the climate affect Florida’s agriculture industry?

To answer that, WMNF spoke with Jerry Hatfield, the director of the National Lab for Agriculture and Environment in Iowa. He was a lead author for the agricultural chapter of the recent National Climate Assessment.

"If you look at Florida, now you're talking about a tropical, sub-tropical environment and everything, you see multiple places where climate is impacting and will impact agriculture in the future and if you look across the state the increased variability that we're going to have in weather within a growing season. We know that even though there's a warming trend there's still these chances of frost. It doesn't mean that frost is going to disappear out of Florida so that's going to continue to impact the citrus industry. The warming temperatures as well as the increased humidity will continue to increase the chances for diseases as well as insect populations which will require improved management on the pest part of the overall complex. These aspects are examples of the direct impacts as well as the indirect impacts of weather and climate on agriculture."

How about rain? What do we expect in Florida as far as rainfall?

"Rainfall is not projected to increase that much in that we'll see some minor changes from year to year but the overall increase is relatively minor. That won't change appreciably as part of this. I think that what's going to occur is that we'll see more intense rainstorms. I'm not saying that everything will always be like the rainstorm that just occurred in Pensacola that had 20 inches in one day but what will happen is that the storms that do occur are going to become more intense, a lot of rain in a short period of time. That means that we're going to have to make sure that our soils are protected and managed in such a way as to allow them to absorb more rainfall very quickly."

Some of the effects in Florida are in the report include things like harmful algae blooms and seafood production. Can you talk about what might happen just off shore in Florida?

"You start looking at the changing temperatures that are going on and one of the things to effect algae blooms. A lot of the things that have happened in the near shore area is related to temperature changes so when you see the temperature increase a lot more active biological systems so that's where you see a lot of the algae blooms. Algae blooms are really caused by nutrient sources, where we get a lot of runoff from our urban areas, ag areas they carry nutrients with it, couple that with a slightly warmer ocean temperature and that's where algae really begins to blossom and grow."

When it comes to agriculture I want to ask how Florida can adapt to reduce the effects of climate change on the agriculture here?

"I think one of the things we start looking at; the adaptation of agriculture particularly in Florida, is being aware that there's going to be some changes in, like I said, the intensity of precipitation. One of the adaptation strategies is to make sure that the soil is protected; absorbs the rainfall, stores the rainfall, make it available. That's one piece of it. We also know that with these warmer temperatures that our crop water use rate is going to be higher so that producers are going to have to plan for maybe more frequent irrigations or better irrigation management to make sure that the crop isn't under water stress. I think that as we bring these pieces together we'll have to look at say slightly warmer temperatures and what that means in terms of say changing planting season and how that's affecting rates of crop growth, particularly vegetables and how that may require different management to understand that as they grow faster they're going to reach market faster and so the whole harvesting sequence and everything else will be changed. So all of these pieces there are slight changes in what is going to happen out there. The producers need to be aware that all of these things are occurring and how do they adapt to them in terms of their management decisions. As well as observations of what's going on. Climate change presents us with a challenge, it presents us with an opportunity. I think if you look at something like Florida you have some tremendous opportunities in terms of being able to adapt to this changing climate that will help producers prove their capabilities to producing crops, doing a number of different things. We need to understand all of those different things to be able to help them."

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