Manage Agricultural Lands for Climate Change

Climate change has already been linked to changes in crop distributions, productivity. and viability, as well as increased drought and fire disturbance. As temperatures continue to warm, these changes will continue. To address current and future challenges, land trusts involved in working farms or farmland conservation are taking steps to manage agricultural lands for climate change.

What Does Climate Change Mean for Agricultural Lands?

The National Climate Assessment reports that climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased over the past 40 years and are projected to increase, with increasingly negative impacts to crops and livestock. The potential impacts to agricultural lands may vary but are expected to include:

  • Increased health risks from disease, pests and new competitors or predators.
  • Changes in productivity, planting ranges, and timing.
  • Temporal or geographic disconnect between species that previously relied upon one another, such as pollinators and flowers.

The US Global Climate Research Program reports that despite improvements in technology, corn yields have been impacted and significantly decreased some years due to extreme weather events, high temperatures and drought. USGCRP, Change in Corn Yields

As temperatures increase and precipitation extremes are further intensified, yields of major U.S. crops and farm profits are expected to decline.

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How Can Land Trusts Help?

By planning for climate change today, land trusts help agricultural lands weather the effects of climate change tomorrow. Land trusts may consider the following actions:

Agricultural Activities that Mitigate the Impact of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Agricultural activities can contribute to the reduction in atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases (GHG) in three important ways: sequestration, emissions reductions, and fossil fuel substitution.

Sequestration: Carbon dioxide (CO2) removed from the atmosphere can be stored in soils, biomass, and harvested products, and protected or preserved to avoid CO2 release back to the atmosphere. These become carbon stores or carbon sinks.

Emissions reductions: Agricultural CH4 and N2O emissions can be reduced through effective manure and feed management and efficient fertilizer application. CO2 emissions can be reduced by adopting more fuel efficient technologies and practices.

Fossil fuel substitution: Using biofuels produced in the agricultural sector instead of fossil fuels can help lower GHG concentrations.

By adopting these practices, producers can save money and time while enhancing and improving the environment around them, a common goal for many farmers and ranchers as well as their community partners.  In addition to supporting sustainable working land management practices that can provide multiple ecosystem services including carbon sequestration, as long-term environmental stewards land trusts are in a unique position to support mitigation policies and practices that galvanize immediate actions to reduce the potential extent of future climate change today.

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See additional resources include guidance from NCRS on:

Learn more about climate impacts to agriculture from USDA’s report The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States.

Learn more about climate change and impacts to animal agriculture from USDA’s Animal Agriculture and Climate Change project.