Climate change and agriculture: ‘We need to do something’


Gene Takle remembers the moment he first became aware of a new concept called global climate change.

It was August 1988. He was in Denmark, and he was reading an article in Science magazine. Takle had been vaguely aware of what was going on with the earth’s climate, but never thought it would be a “game changer” until he read that article.

He’s since spent the majority of his career pursuing research on global climate change. He’s a co-principal investigator on the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program and was a member of authoring and review teams of periodic assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cited as a co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

The professor of atmospheric science and Pioneer Hi-Bred Professor of Agronomy has shifted his primary focus to the impact of climate change on regional agriculture. He often presents his findings to agriculture networks such as the USDA.

When he has an opportunity to meet with local farmers, he lays it on the line.

“I tell them that climate is changing, humans are having a large fraction of the impact on it, it’s affecting all Iowans, it’s affecting our economy, and we need to do something about it, because it’s going to get worse. That’s the elevator speech.”

He says the information resonates with farmers – up to a point.

“Most farmers will now agree that things are different than they used to be, but a majority do not believe that humans are responsible,” he said. “There’s a lot of year-to-year variability [in the weather]. It’s hard to say, well, this drought was due to climate change but this storm wasn’t. But there are trends in the U.S. that are clearly related to climate change and related to increases in greenhouse gasses.”

Takle is also studying the impact of wind turbines on crops.

“When windmills started sprouting up like dandelions in the spring across the landscape, it just occurred to me to wonder if they had an effect on crops,” he said.

It turns out they do. Just like trees planted as agricultural shelterbelts – a subject Takle researched for more than a decade – a series of large wind turbines have a measurable impact on field temperature, moisture, and wind speed. Takle’s research group is the first in the U.S. to report such field measurements within wind farms.

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