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A detailed report on ARS global change research appears in the July 1997 issue of ARS' Agricultural Research magazine. Click here to read the report on the web.

Global Climate Change: What Can Farmers Expect?

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
July 24, 1997

Global Climate Change. The Greenhouse Effect. These terms are often heard nowadays, and what they could mean for the future is the subject of scientific study around the world.

In the United States, the Agricultural Research Service is focusing on the question: “What could a wide-scale environmental shift really mean for U.S. agriculture?”

ARS scientists have found that farmers may have to alter cultural practices or develop new crop varieties if carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to increase.

Their findings include:

· Crops like rice, soybeans, wheat and cotton could produce higher yields as CO2 concentrations rise, so long as temperatures don’t increase too much.

· Snowmelt, and the water it supplies for agriculture, could be available in different amounts and at different times if temperatures change.

· Forage quality of rangeland grasses could decline, but there would probably be more total grass production.

· Additional plant growth spurred by increased CO2 could help control other environmental problems such as nitrate leaching and soil erosion.

The bottom line: Agriculture will need to make planned, manageable adjustments. Further, farmers may be able to help mitigate global change. Practices such as no-till farming help keep carbon in the soil rather than release it into the air as CO2.

Scientific contact: Herman Mayeux, ARS National Program Leader for Global Change, Beltsville, M., phone (301) 504-5281, fax 504-6231,