Key Message: Rate of Adaptation
Agriculture has been able to adapt to recent changes in climate; however, increased innovation will be needed to ensure the rate of adaptation of agriculture and the associated socioeconomic system can keep pace with climate change over the next 25 years.
Process for Developing Key Messages:
A central component of the process was the development of a foundational technical input report (TIR), “Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: An Assessment of Effects and Potential for Adaptation”.3 A public session conducted as part of the Tri-Societies (https://www.acsmeetings.org/home) meeting held in San Antonio, Texas, on Oct. 16-19, 2011, provided input to this report.
The report team engaged in multiple technical discussions via teleconference, which included careful review of the foundational TIR3 and of approximately 56 additional technical inputs provided by the public, as well as other published literature and professional judgment. Discussions were followed by expert deliberation of draft key messages by the authors and targeted consultation with additional experts by the lead author of each message.
Description of evidence base
There is emerging evidence about the economic impacts of climate change on agriculture and the potential for adaptive strategies.1 In the case of crop production, much of the economic literature suggests that in the short term, producers will continue to adapt to weather changes and shocks as they always have, with changes in the timing of field operations, shifts in crops grown, and changing tillage or irrigation practices.1 In the longer term, however, existing adaptive technologies will likely not be sufficient to buffer the impacts of climate change without significant impacts to domestic producers, consumers, or both.
New strategies for building long-term resilience include both new technologies and new institutions to facilitate appropriate, informed producer response to a changing climate. Furthermore, there are both public and private costs to adjusting agricultural production and infrastructure in a manner that enables adaptation.2
New information and remaining uncertainties
Limits to public investment and constraints on private investment could slow the speed of adaptation, yet potential constraints and limits are not well-understood or integrated into economic impact assessments. The economic implications of changing biotic pressures on crops and livestock, and on the agricultural system as a whole, are not well-understood, either in the short or long term.3 Adaptation may also be limited by availability of inputs (such as land or water), changing prices of other inputs with climate change (such as energy and fertilizer), and by the environmental implications of intensifying or expanding agricultural production.
It is difficult to fully represent the complex interactions of the entire socio-ecological system within which agriculture operates, to assess the relative effectiveness and feasibility of adaptation strategies at various levels. Economic impact assessments require improved understanding of adaptation capacity and agricultural resilience at the system level, including the agri-ecosystem impacts related to diseases and pests. Economic impact assessments also require improved understanding of adaptation opportunities, economic resilience, and constraints to adaptation at the producer level.2,1 The economic value of ecological services, such as pollination services, is particularly difficult to quantify and incorporate into economic impact efforts.3
Assessment of confidence based on evidence
Emerging evidence about adaptation of agricultural systems to changing climate is beginning to be developed. The complex interactions among all of the system components present a limitation to a complete understanding, but do provide a comprehensive framework for the assessment of agricultural responses to climate change. Given the overall and remaining uncertainty, there is medium confidence in this message.
Strong evidence (established theory, multiple sources, consistent results, well documented and accepted methods, etc.), high consensus
Moderate evidence (several sources, some consistency, methods vary and/or documentation limited, etc.), medium consensus
Suggestive evidence (a few sources, limited consistency, models incomplete, methods emerging, etc.), competing schools of thought
Inconclusive evidence (limited sources, extrapolations, inconsistent findings, poor documentation and/or methods not tested, etc.), disagreement or lack of opinions among experts