By Tom Driscoll, NFU Director of Conservation Policy and Education
For farmers, rain is generally a good thing. Crops don’t grow without water, and other NFU Climate Column posts discuss the problems farmers do and will encounter getting enough rain and water as climate change progresses. But farmers also know that too much rain all at once, or at the wrong time, can be just as harmful as too little rain.
USDA’s Northeast and Northern Forests Regional Climate Hub Assessment of Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies explains, “Projected increases in heavy precipitation combined with milder winters is expected to increase total runoff and peak stream flow during the winter and spring, which may increase the magnitude or frequency of flooding. Increases in runoff following heavy precipitation will also likely lead to an increase in soil erosion.” So far, the Northeast has experienced a greater increase in extreme precipitation events than other areas, but these harmful downpours are happening more frequently in many regions.
Increased extreme precipitation can disrupt the marketing infrastructure farmers rely on by complicating barge traffic on our rivers. It can affect yields by interfering with planting. Erosion and runoff are also costly; heavy rains may prevent crops from properly utilizing fertilizer, and concentrated nutrients in runoff can stress ecosystems, communities, and invite litigation and regulation.
Increased extreme precipitation events can have serious impacts on your operation, but acting now to fight climate change will help prevent worst-case scenarios for you and the generations that follow on your land. There is a lot that farmers can do to adapt to these changes, too. To learn how you can help avoid the most alarming climate change consequences and cope with the variations that cannot be avoided, stay posted with NFU’s Climate Column and check out the USDA Vulnerability Assessment covering your area.
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This map shows percent increases in how much precipitation comes down in “very heavy events” (the heaviest 1% of all daily events) from 1958 through 2012 by region. This trend is expected to continue; it’s going to be harder and harder to make good use of this water when it comes down all at once. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/our-changing-climate/heavy-downpours-increasing#graphic-16693