"If you ate today, you are involved in agriculture." - Chris Christiaens
In collaboration with Montana Farmers Union, Plowing Forward, which aims to educate farmers, ranchers and anyone who likes food about the latest research into the climate change impacts to agriculture, is bringing together agriculture leaders and climate change researchers to educate the public. The organization recently organized a panel discussion in Bozeman featuring:
- Chris Christiaens, Montana Farmers Union;
- U.S. Senator Jon Tester from Montana, farmer from west of Big Sandy;
- Cathy Whitlock, Director, MSU Institute on Ecosystems; Lead Coordinator Montana Climate Assessment
- Bruce Maxwell, Professor of Agroecology, MSU Dept. of Land Resources and Environmental Science; Agriculture Sector Lead, Montana Climate Assessment
- Fabian Menalled, Professor of Weed Ecology and Management, MSU Dept. of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences; and,
- Erik Kalsta, fourth generation rancher of Kalsta Ranch Company near Dillon along Montana's Big Hole River.
The presenters shared agricultural statistics, climate data and agricultural antidotes of climate change in a collective effort to make the changes in climate relevant while providing applicable ways that attendees could get involved in future conversations and could adapt their agricultural practices to the changing climate.
The agriculture industry dominates the Montana economy. In Montana, agriculture is a $4.5 billion industry with a connection to one in five Montana jobs. There are 28,000 farms and ranches in Montana. And, the state is #1 in the nation in production of pulse crops and #2 in organic acres. All of these farms, ranches, crops, and people that work in the industry are affected by climate.
According to ongoing research, by 2050 Montana will likely realize a 4-6 degree increase in the temperature, 20-40 fewer days below freezing, and 5-10% less summer rain.
Cold winters are essentially to farmers primarily because they kill disease and bugs. An increase in temperature means a decrease in snowpack, which results in a reduction of late-season irrigation capacity. Hay, sugar beets, malt barley, and garden vegetables / pot production are most negatively impacted by a reduction in late-season irrigation capacity. Though warmer winters have a direct effect on farmers and ranchers, the decrease in snowpack has an adverse effect on downstream properties and water users as well.
"Snowpack in Montana is the water tower for the continent." - Bruce Maxwell
In light of the climate projections, researchers are working to better predict the specific impacts of these changes on crops in Montana. At the Ft. Ellis Experimental Farm, Mendalled and his colleagues are researching the effects of climate change by simulating increased temperature and decreased precipitation with both conventional and organic crops. Their ongoing research has revealed that cheat grass, the #1 weed in conventional no-till farming in Montana, increases in biomass as temperature increases and precipitation decreases. Under the same conditions yields decrease and weed growth increases; however, it seems that organic crops are more resilient or less negatively effected than conventional crops.
In conjunction with Mendealled's reasearch, Whitlock and Maxwell previewed the scope of the related Montana Climate Assessment, which is being released in August of 2017. Prior to release, a tentative February date has been set for public comment. If you'd like to engage in this conversation further, check the MCA website for updates on the public comment period.
To make the research findings more applicable, Tester, wearing his farmer hat instead of Senator hat, and Kalsta together provided "boots on the ground" insight, which largely corroborated the information shared by each of the other panelists. Tester, a farmer, and Kalsta, a rancher, spoke to their challenges with disease, bugs, and weeds due to the increase in temperature and decrease in precipitation. They also shared thoughts on methods they are testing to adapt operations to the changing climate. Earlier in the year, High County News featured Kalsta and his innovative techniques to prepare for tomorrow's climate as an example of how ranchers can compensate for changes in climate. Kalsta and Tester advocated for family farm agriculture and innovation.
"Public education and family farm agriculture are the backbones of society" - Senator Tester
In all, the panelists successfully educated a room full of farmers, ranchers and folks who like food about the latest research of how climate change impacts to agriculture.