By Alayna DeMartini
Climate change may trigger images of polar bears falling off melting ice slabs in the Arctic, but the changes are relevant for Ohio farmers as well.
Winters in Ohio are warming quicker than summers are, while summer nighttime lows are increasing faster than daytime highs, said Aaron Wilson, climate specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.
“Although it is warmer now on average, daytime highs in the summer are not as extreme as they were in the 1930s and 1950s when Ohio experienced prolonged droughts,” Wilson pointed out.
However, at night in the summer, the weather isn’t cooling off as much as it had been for decades, he said. Along with that, the amount of rainfall in Ohio has increased, and extreme rain events are far more common, Wilson said.
With more water in the atmosphere and rising temperatures, weather prediction models anticipate Ohio’s climate by the end of this century to be 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer year round with more humidity and less snowfall, Wilson said.
“Our winters could very well be like those in coastal Virginia,” Wilson said. “Except we won’t have the ocean breezes.”
Wilson has studied the past 120 years of weather patterns in Ohio and worldwide. He will offer his insights into local climate trends at 1 p.m. on Sept. 21 at the Farm Science Review at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center near London, Ohio. Joining Wilson in the talk will be Jason Cervenec. Cervenec and Wilson both work for Ohio State’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. There Wilson is a senior research associate, and Cervenec is the education and outreach director.
Their talk is free with admission to the Review and is one in a series hosted by the Review’s Small Farm Center, which features educational programs for smaller farms, with particular emphasis on alternative enterprises, production systems and marketing strategies. The Review is the largest agricultural event in Ohio with more than 130,000 participants over three days.
Wilson’s climate predictions stem from research into the state, regional and national weather back to 1880 as well as research into how the atmosphere responds to changes. Across the globe, temperatures have increased by roughly 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, Wilson said. The last three years were the three warmest on record so far.
Ohioans hankering for milder winters may not be dismayed by the prediction of warmer winters to come. But any shift in climate patterns has implications for what Ohio farmers can plant and sustain, Wilson said.
A warmer winter means that some insects or diseases that used to be killed off by frigid temperatures can survive winter, and their populations increase. Also, warmer summer nights can affect the growth of corn, which temporarily shuts down growth at 86 degrees, Wilson said. With warmer nights, daytime temperatures can climb to 86 degrees earlier in the day, potentially leaving more hours when corn has temporarily stopped growing.
More frequent intense rainfalls, particularly in the spring, can affect whether fertilizer that’s applied to soil gets absorbed or runs off, or if newly planted seeds are washed away. In Darke County, 10 to 12 inches of rain fell in May, causing corn growers to replant. Rainfall for the month typically averages 4 inches, about one-third of what fell this past May, Wilson said.
“It has been a very challenging spring planting season,” Wilson said.
This year Ohioans witnessed an unusually warm February, a colder March, and a very wet late April and early May. Early June was hot and dry, leaving some corn crops impacted by dry, crusted soils.
If farmers are prepared to adapt to climate changes, they can become more resilient, able to prosper despite the challenges, Wilson said.
“The more that climate scientists can work with farmers — and each has expertise to bring to the table — the more we can make connections so that farmers can make informed decisions about the future,” Wilson said.