Dan Herms studies insects at the Ohio State University Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.
Herms: “We’ve documented that insects are emerging several weeks earlier now than they were, for example, in the early 1970s.”
He attributes those earlier arrivals to the one degree the earth’s average temperature has risen over the last three decades. And he says it means farmers will need to change the way they use pesticide to fight these insects.
Herms: “Like corn pests and soybean pests, like the European corn borer, the soybean looper. (They’ll) have more generations each season than they do now as the climate gets warmer, which will increase the pressure of pests.
“I can’t say that translates into using more pesticides at this point, but it certainly translates into using pesticides at different times than what they’re used to. I’ve seen examples, especially for certain insects that are hard to detect and monitor, … (of) not getting controls because the insects had come and gone before they made their treatments. So that results in ineffective pesticide, which economically and environmentally, has negative effects.”
Herms says Ohio’s warmer average temperature is also leading to the migration of southern insects into the state. He says the southern pine beetle has made a home in southern Ohio. And the weed Kudzu is now spreading its thick, leafy, fast growing vines across Ohio.
Besides those issues, Herms says earlier springs can also increase chances for damage to other crops such as apples.
Herms: “They’re blooming in mid-April instead of early May, and frost still occurs into mid-May and that can be a problem.”
Niedermier: “I assume over the last 100 years that’s probably happened a few times. Is it happening more frequently?”
Herms: “There’s a lot of variation as you’ve indicated, so it takes a while for these kind of patterns to emerge. The biggest chunk of warming has occurred over the last 30 years. And so some of these risks are risks that we project will occur. …Part of the problem is that we don’t have good records on the effects of a killing frost on a particular crop, going back as we do for the actual temperature records.”
Herms says an advantage of an early spring is that the growing season will be longer. And, while a 1 degree temperature increase over 30 years may not sound like a big jump, Herms says it must be put into perspective.
Herms: “The average temperature of the earth changes about 10 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit from the coldest point of the ice age to the warmest point of the ice age. So a 10 to 12 degree shift, we’re already had a 1-degree shift in just 30 years, about a 1-degree Fahrenheit increase since the industrial revolution, and we’re committed to another 2 degrees of warming just from the CO2 that’s already in the atmosphere.
“So that’s 4 degrees, compared to 10 to 12 for the total overall range of the ice age.”
And though there’s controversy over who, or what, is making the earth warmer, Herms says the change is occurring.
A Lorain County farmer is heading out to his fields this week to spray his corn crop, a crop that he planted three-weeks late because of the wet spring.
And over in Geauga County, Jeff Carver has been raising cattle and growing the corn and other feed crops on his farm for 30 years. Like most farmers, he watches the weather closely. And this spring, he, too, was waiting for the rains to stop so he could get his fields planted. But he says he doesn’t see any consistent weather variations.
Carver: “I don’t know as far as you’re talking about insects or whatever coming early, that that’s true. … (But) the barn swallows are back already. This is what, the 27th of April? That’s early; usually they don’t come back until at least the middle of May.
“I see them around here now as of yesterday and today, and that’s definitely early. And I wouldn’t think they’d be back unless there were bugs around because that’s what they eat.”
About 90 miles southwest of Carver’s farm, F.W. Owen grows crops for his wholesale produce facility in Ashland County. The 64-year old has been farming all his life, and is skeptical about research showing consistently earlier planting seasons.
Owen: “It’s random, and like this year it’s a very late year, I’m not seeing that. A butterfly flaps its wings in Peking and we get whatever we get.Who knows why.”
Back at the Wooster research center, Dan Herms says he understands the changes are probably not clear yet, even to people whose livelihoods depend so much on the weather.
Herms: “The growing season has changed by about 1 to 2 days every 10 years. That’s been the average that’s occurred over the last century. And so some people say they notice it, some people don’t.
“In my experience, people don’t really have an accurate view unless they actually keep records. They have a perception. To me, it seems as if I’ve noticed it because we don’t ice skate on our pond as much as we used to when I was a kid.”
Herms says the slightly warmer winters have also reduced the ice on Lake Erie, curtailing the ice fishing season.
Whether or not farmers are concerned about the changes…another Ohio State agricultural researcher is looking for ways to position Ohio’s farming industry for a warmer future. Casey Hoy says the climate changes will mean more extreme weather-related events like the flooding, fires and tornado outbreaks the U.S. has seen this year. He says the temperature increase itself is not a major problem for farmers because most warmer weather crops can be grown in Ohio. But, he says the extra heat will be coupled with increasingly uneven rainfall.
Hoy: “You have higher temperature with more rainfall. That can be a problem, you can have more diseases, the temperature exacerbates that. If you have higher temperatures and less rainfall, the higher temperatures can exacerbate the effects of a drought. Higher temperatures with the right amount of rainfall, and you can actually produce more. But the problem is that the rainfall part is very unpredictable.
“All we know is that it’s going to be a lot more variable, and a lot more difficult to work with.”
Hoy says for the last two centuries, Ohio farmers have tilled and contoured their fields to drain quickly. But he says a future challenge is conserving that water.
Hoy: “We could be coming into a pattern over the next decades where you have to capture the kinds of floods they’ve had in the Mississippi River basin this year, and hold all that and store it because the next step is a drought, and you’re going to need all that.
“So the amount of rainfall you’ve seen, the Mississippi River, Iowa recently, being able to capture it is a huge challenge. … Having an agriculture that’s able to handle either extreme flooding, extremely wet conditions, or extremely dry conditions, and not really knowing which one is going to come is a big challenge.”
Hoy says it may mean building reservoirs to store excess rainfall. He is also advising Ohio farmers to diversify their crops beyond the usual corn, soybeans, oats and wheat…..
Hoy: “We can produce in Ohio just about anything that you can produce anywhere else. And we do produce it at some scale. So it’s a matter of expanding that diversity to lots of different kinds of things, different kinds of plants, fruits, vegetables, grains and even different kinds of animals.”
Niedermier: “The more variety you have, the more chanced you have of hitting the right crop in the right year.”
Hoy: “Right, you want diversity so that whatever scenario plays out, you have something that’s working and you’re still able to feed people. And that’s a concept that’s not unfamiliar to farmers.”
Hoy says the crops that do well in Ohio, but are not grown in large amounts are things like bok choy, broccoli and cauliflower…and different varieties of wheat, rye and barley. Hoy says he doesn’t see strong resistance to increased crop diversity from Ohio farmers; it’s just a matter of redirecting the inertia of farming patterns that have existed for 200 years -- patterns he believes must change as the climate slowly warms.
I’m Kevin Niedermier…..89-7 WKSU….