Climate and Agriculture in the Southeast

Georgia Climate Project: What are the costs and benefits of climate change to agriculture?

This week’s research question from the Georgia Climate Project Roadmap comes from the section on agriculture. Since agriculture is the biggest industry in Georgia, the impacts of changing climate are going to hit our state’s economy hard but could also provide new opportunities for farmers to produce new crops or change their rotation strategies to take advantage of longer growing seasons and potentially less frost. We need to know what those changes will be. Providing a trend in the annual temperature is not going to be helpful for farmers, since length of the growing season, number of unusually hot or cold days, or changes in the number of chill hours are much more useful for producers for planning purposes. See all forty questions at https://roadmap.georgiaclimateproject.org/.

16. What are the economic costs and benefits of climate change for agricultural and natural resources?

Why this question is important: Climate change is expected to affect agriculture and natural resources across the State in a variety of ways, including increases in the length of the growing season, decreased need for winter heating, increases in heat stress to crops and livestock, and changes in rainfall, humidity and evapotranspiration, which could lead to both more severe droughts and more floods (Melillo et al. 2014). The costs of these changes and how Georgians might reduce risk from environmental hazards while taking advantage of the potential benefits of a warmer climate are not well understood. Agriculture, the single biggest industry in Georgia and which in 2015 contributed $74.9 billion in output (8% of Georgia’s $917.6 billion economy) (University of Georgia 2017), is particularly at risk. For instance, a 2007 drought caused an estimated $787 million in agricultural production losses (Flanders et al. 2007). In 2017, blueberries and peach crops were impacted by unusually early spring warming followed by atypical mid-March frost event. The pecan harvest was negatively affected by the unusually strong inland winds of Hurricane Irma.