Weather Forecast


Report: Climate change affects ND agriculture: State prone to more extreme weather patterns

Graphic by National Climatic Data Center

If what the latest National Climate Assessment concluded turns out to be correct, the Great Plains states could be subjected to more extreme weather during this century and beyond.

However, states such as North Dakota can adapt through the use of new technologies, community-driven policies and judicious use of resources, the authors stated.

Even North Dakota state climatologist Adnan Akyuz said he believes warmer temperatures will actually benefit area farmers, especially those growing corn. Rising temperatures in the north will prolong growing seasons, according to the assessment.

“I think the more positive implications will surpass the negative implications,” Akyuz said.

Hundreds of scientists work on the federally mandated assessment every four years, meant to produce a consensus on climate change and predict national trends.

In the Great Plains, assessment authors predict “more frequent and more intense droughts, severe rainfall events, and heat waves” during this century and beyond. Typically, the Great Plains are prone to more extremes and variable weather patterns.

The Great Plains is defined by the report as North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Climate change may shift crop and livestock production northward in the Great Plains, as states closer to the equator are projected to be hotter and drier. Water resources in southern states will be stressed, affecting irrigation, municipal use and energy generation, according to the assessment.

This may be good news for North Dakota farmers, who may be able to grow profitable 85-day corn, Akyuz said. North Dakota has gained 1.2 corn growing days per decade, he said.

As temperatures more often increase past 89 degrees in southern Great Plains states, corn crops may be damaged, Akyuz said.

North Dakota Corn Growers Association Executive Director Tom Lilja said the threat of cold summers continues to plague farmers.

“In 2004 and 2009, we had two of the coldest summers we’ve ever had,” Lilja said. “Those were very challenging growing seasons for the majority of the corn crop.”

Akyuz said it’s important to understand that climate change means volatility, not just warming, causing both heat waves and cold waves. In 2012, the U.S. encountered its second-warmest year since 1890, but in 2013, it experienced its 33rd-coldest year, he said.

The assessment encourages proactive planning among local government officials for the effects of climate change. Researchers also recommended “mainstreaming” planning into natural resources, public health and emergency services management.

Rep. Mike Schatz, R-New England, said, as a history teacher by training, he believes that climate changes are only temporary.

“It warms up and it cools down at certain times,” Schatz said. “For people to say that it’s absolute science is not correct.”

In response to the assessment, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., critiqued the Environmental Protection Agency on how it is approaching curbing greenhouse gas emissions, focusing on regulations instead of investments in new technologies. The EPA is expected to propose new carbon regulations for coal-fired power plants as a means to fight climate change in June.

“There’s millions and billions of dollars that could go to energy instead,” Hoeven said.

Hoeven said he is attempting to bring a bill to vote in the Senate that would provide federal funds for more coal plants that produce synthetic gas and sell its carbon dioxide byproduct. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is co-sponsoring the bill.

Hoeven referenced Beulah’s Dakota Gasification plant as the only commercial-scale example of such a facility nationwide.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, composed of thousands of international scientists, asserts that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are the primary cause of climate change.