Agricultural Impacts and Adaptation

As a result of climate-induced changes in productivity and resources, agricultural yield potentials are likely to change (see Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation). These impacts will affect national and international markets; the prices of food, fiber, and energy; agricultural incomes; and the environment. Farmer responses, possibly aided by policy changes, can help facilitate continued commodity production, conservation of natural resources, and food security in the face of climate change. See the ERS report for more information:

Global Drivers of Agricultural Demand and Supply

ERS research suggests that U.S. farmers are likely to adapt to climate change by altering crops, rotations, and production practices; redistributing production across regions can greatly mitigate the impact of climate change on national agricultural markets. Adaptive responses to global climate change will likely also include the use of new crop varieties. Genetic combinations that are optimal for present growing environments may not be best as the growing environment changes. Plant breeding efforts can create varieties better suited to changed environments, and new genetic material could enhance efforts to breed new crop varieties. The development of knowledge and tools to enable forecasting, preparation, and adaptation to climate change will also improve the resilience of agricultural ecosystems (see Data and Decision-Making Support). See the ERS reports for more information:

Climate Change, Water Scarcity, and Adaptation in the U.S. Fieldcrop Sector Agricultural Adaptation to a Changing Climate: Economic and Environmental Implications Vary by U.S. Region

In addition to its effect on feed crop yields and prices, climate change can affect livestock production by increasing heat stress experienced by farm animals. Dairy cows are particularly sensitive to heat stress, and the dairy sector has been estimated to bear over half of the costs of current heat stress to the livestock industry. Dairies are located under a range of average annual temperature humidity index (THI) loads in the contiguous 48 States. ERS research found a significant negative relationship between heat stress and the productivity of U.S. dairies. In 2010, heat stress lowered annual milk production for the average dairy by about $39,000, which equates to $1.2 billion in lost production for the dairy sector. Holding milk prices constant, we estimate that the additional heat stress from climate change will lower milk production for the average dairy by 0.60 to 1.35 percent by 2030. See the ERS report for more information:

Climate Change, Heat Stress, and U.S. Dairy Production

ERS research results not specifically focused on climate change can also inform climate adaptation-related questions. For example, ERS research finds strong links between public and private investment in agricultural research and development and agricultural productivity growth in crops and livestock. Productivity growth is often stressed as a key component needed to meet the challenges of climate and biofuel policy goals. Research on R&D trends, policies, and benefits may provide valuable insights on options for improved targeting of scarce public and private resources to adapt to climate change effects and respond to climate change impacts. See the ERS report for more information:

Economic Returns to Public Agricultural Research

ERS research on crop genetic resources indicates that these resources are essential to maintaining and improving agricultural productivity. But habitat loss, the dominance of scientifically bred over farmer-developed varieties, and genetic uniformity are all threats to continued diversity within the crop genetic resource pool. The U.S. system for genetic resource conservation may lack sufficient diversity to reduce some crops' vulnerability to pests and diseases. Changing climatic regimes and associated increases in crop stressors (such as pests, drought, flood and early frost events) may increase demand for a wider range of genetic material. See the ERS report for more information:

Using Crop Genetic Resources to Help Agriculture Adapt to Climate Change: Economics and Policy

The Role of USDA Programs Under Climate Change

Changing climate conditions are projected to involve increased incidence of extreme events such as drought, hurricanes, and flooding. A major drought is among the most serious production shocks a farm can experience (see California Drought: Farm and Food Impacts in the ERS newsroom). Over the past decade, total drought-related crop insurance indemnities and disaster relief payments averaged $4 billion per year, up from less than $1.3 billion per year in the 1980s. Increased payouts for drought have been due to a combination of expanded enrollment in crop insurance programs, increased liabilities due to higher yields and commodity prices, and a series of major droughts in recent decades. ERS research finds that farmers use USDA conservation programs to mitigate their drought risk; farmers in more drought-prone regions are more likely to offer land for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program, and are also more likely to be enrolled in EQIP contracts for irrigation or conservation tillage practices. If climate change increases drought risk, this may lead to increased demand by farmers for participation in conservation programs. See the ERS report for more information:

The Role of Conservation Programs in Drought Risk Adaptation