Tech Tuesday

A Note about Climate Change

Three groups establish position statement on a key issue and crops and climate change get a look.

You could call this week's edition of Tech Tuesday the tri-society special, as two releases have come across our desk recently from the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America that deserve attention.

First up, is the three groups' position statement on climate change. This issue, which is controversial in some quarters, but as many major corporations from DuPont to Bayer have already done, these groups have set down their own position statement on the issue. The three groups have based their statement on a review of the current scientific knowledge and understanding of the issue.

In that statement the societies warn that a changing climate could have large impacts on the future ability of agriculture to provide food, feed, fuel and fiber, as well as vital "ecosystem services" such as pollination, natural pest management and erosion control.

The full 12-page statement can be found online at each of the associations' websites from ASA, SSSA, and CSSA. Here are some key points from the statement, according to the groups' release on the subject.

  • Increases in ambient temperatures and changes in related processes are directly linked to rising anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.
  • The potential impacts of climate change on the ability of agricultural systems, including soil and water resources, to provide food, feed, fiber and fuel, and maintain ecosystem services are major concerns.
  • The agricultural sector faces a significant challenge: to increase production for the purpose of providing food security for 9 billion people by the middle of the 21st century, while also protecting the environment and enhancing function of global ecosystems. Rising and more volatile food prices are also threatening food security, and the challenge is further compounded by climate change impacts that now require mitigation. Therefore, agricultural practices must be developed to mitigate climate change, adapt cropping systems to expected changes, meet future demands for food, feed, fiber and bioenergy, and protect natural resources.
  • Agricultural activities account for 10 to 15% of total global emissions of the three main greenhouse gases - [carbon dioxide], [methane] and [nitrous oxide]- although estimates vary. While agricultural, forest and grazing land management emit greenhouse gases, many opportunities exist to mitigate these emissions and to sequester carbon in the soil and in the biomass of perennial vegetation.
  • The global mitigation potential for agriculture is estimated to range between 5,500 to 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year through the large-scale application of practices that improve productivity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve soil.
  • For the agricultural sector to anticipate and respond to climate change, the research and development community must develop the knowledge and methods required to ensure food security and ecosystem services. As a result, intensified and focused research is needed in several broad areas of agronomy, crop science and soil science.

A Position on Adapting Crops to Climate Change

Along with that initial position statement on climate change, the three societies are looking at the potential for unprecedented weather change and how it could impact food production. From this, they've worked to develop a position statement designed to guide scientists, funding agencies and policy makers for the future.

Prepared by a working group of scientists from academia and industry, the statement reviews the impacts of variable weather conditions arising from climate change on cropping systems; reports the progress to date in adapting crops and management practices to these new conditions; and offers focus areas for boosting the speed at which global agriculture can further adapt.

A key part of the statement is the need to expand research programs to understand the physiological, genetic and molecular basis or adaptation to the drought, heat and biological stresses that will likely result from climate change, the groups say.

"Developing new crops and cultivars through plant breeding is a long term process," says Seth Murray, Texas A&M University corn breeder and geneticist. "While new technologies are already speeding up the rate of crop improvement, we need to start thinking proactively about how to sustainably increase food security under quickly changing environmental extremes." Murray was part of the working group.

American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America.

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