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Vulnerability of crops and croplands in the US Northern Plains to predicted climate change

Abstract

The states of Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming comprise the Northern Great Plains region of the USA. The soil and water resources contained in this region have historically supported highly diverse and productive agriculture enterprises that provide a significant proportion of the food, feed, and oilseed for the nation. The region also provides ecological services that influence air, water, and soil quality along with biological diversity. Combined with livestock production and a biofuel industry, crop production forms an integrated system that can offer producers flexibility in management decisions. Projected climatic changes for this region include increasing atmospheric CO2, a longer, warmer growing season, and increased precipitation, likely received in more frequent extreme events. These changes will impact soil and water resources in the region and create opportunities and challenges for land managers. The objectives of this paper are to describe anticipated impacts of projected mid-(2050) and late-(2085) climatic changes on crop production systems in the Northern Great Plains and provide adaptation strategies that should be developed to take advantage of positive and mitigate negative changes. Projected climatic changes will influence agricultural productivity directly as well as indirectly due to changes in weed pressure, insect populations, and diseases. A warmer, longer growing season will change the crops and distribution of those crops grown within the region. An increase in the number of extreme temperature events (high daytime highs or nighttime lows) will decrease crop yields due to increased plant stress during critical pollination and grain fill periods. Adaptation strategies to reduce vulnerability of soil and water resources to projected climatic changes include increasing cropping intensity, reducing tillage intensity, and use of cover crops to provide surface cover to reduce erosion potential and improve nutrient and water use efficiency. Increased use of perennial forages, crop residue, and failed crops in integrated crop-livestock systems will add biological diversity and provide options for converting vegetation biomass into animal protein. Socio-economic changes will need to be incorporated into adaptation strategies planning to insure that sustaining ecosystem services and meeting desired production and conservation goals is accomplished. Education and extension services will be needed to transfer adaptive knowledge in a timely manner to producers in the field.

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Correspondence to Brian J. Wienhold.

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This article is part of a Special Issue on ‘Vulnerability Assessment of US Agriculture and Forests developed by the USDA Climate Hubs’ edited by Jerry L. Hatfield, Rachel Steele, Beatrice van Horne, and William Gould.

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Wienhold, B.J., Vigil, M.F., Hendrickson, J.R. et al. Vulnerability of crops and croplands in the US Northern Plains to predicted climate change. Climatic Change 146, 219–230 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-017-1989-x

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