Climate Change Forces Farming Innovation

The Associated Press
Saturday, October 21, 2006; 6:01 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Gary Larsen, a 63-year-old grandfather who raises corn and soybeans is among the growing number of farmers concerned with the potential effects of global warming. "We don't know how the world could actually turn out, but doing absolutely nothing and sticking your head in the sand is not an option," said Larsen, who lives near Elk Horn, Iowa.

He has adopted environmentally friendly farming methods and even recently bought a hybrid car.

Hybrids aren't replacing one-ton pickups in mid-America, but many in the agriculture industry are reacting to the potential effects of global warming, developing new technology and farming methods to brace for the possibility of widespread drought and crop-pounding storms.

In the past century, the Earth's surface temperature has risen by about 1 degree Fahrenheit and could climb another 5 to 10 degrees over the next century, according to government officials. The Environmental Protection Agency has blamed human activities for most of the warming over the last 50 years, including the buildup of greenhouse gases that trap heat.

"It's dire in the sense that this problem is already with us, and it's hard to see how it can go away," said Kevin E. Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "There are no global concerted efforts to really address the problem."

Trenberth said farmers have quickly learned to manage the effects of hot, dry weather and soil-eroding storms.

"They see the trends and they adapt their practices," he said.

The industry has been especially aggressive in breeding and developing crops that more efficiently use soil moisture and nutrients. Such crops can ward off disease and pests that stress plants trying to cope with increased temperatures.

William Niebur, vice president of DuPont Crop Genetics Research and Development, said there is evidence of climate change, including the migration of successful corn production north 100 miles over the past three decades.

"We believe climate change and climate evolution is real," said Niebur, whose company is developing pest-resistant and drought-tolerant crops.

"It's really a holistic approach, understanding that the ecosystem is changing and that we need to equip that ... plant to be able to deal with that more harsh, stressful environment," he said.

The results of the emerging technology are aiding crop production, said Jon Doggett, vice president of public policy for the National Corn Growers Association.

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