MSU researchers model the impact of climate variability and change on agriculture practices

MSU Extension’s Webinar Series on Climate, Water and Agriculture will include the results from a study exploring the best management practices for addressing future climate variability and change.

The potential effects of climate variability and change on the well-being of society are far-reaching. Although the extent of the impact of climate change on humanity and the environment are not completely known, many predictions have been made regarding its effects. Human health, biodiversity, food production, economic growth and water resources are among the potential areas impacted by climate change in Michigan and worldwide. Fresh water is an essential resource to humans, flora, and fauna. Human life depends on clean water for drinking, growing crops, and recreation; ecosystems rely on clean water to provide life and habitat. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that higher temperatures and changes in extremes, such as flood and droughts, will affect water quality and intensify nonpoint source (NPS) pollution. Therefore, it is important to understand the consequences of global climate change on water quality and quantity.

As climate changes, the uncertainty of water availability, changing magnitudes of NPS pollution, and uncertainty of best management practice (BMP) effectiveness are issues that watershed managers and stakeholders must consider and plan for. The objective of this study was to determine how BMP effectiveness will be affected by climate change. Eight agricultural BMPs were physically represented within the Soil and Water Assessment Tool and compared across climate scenarios. The worst-case scenario studied is described by slow development of alternative fuel technologies and prominent fossil fuel usage, where temperature increases may be up to 3.5°C. Conversely, the best case scenario studied illustrates a world relying on resource conservation and ecologically sound solutions, leading to temperature increases of about 2°C.

Overall, water yield, surface runoff, baseflow, sediment, and nutrients loads increased in all the future climate scenarios studied. In addition, a monthly sensitivity analysis revealed that BMP sensitivity varies largely on a seasonal basis. Terraces, contour farming, and native grass were determined to be the most effective in pollution load reduction and percent efficiency at the field and watershed scales in future scenarios, while porous gully plugs showed no significant changes in pollution load or percent reduction. Grazing management, no-till farming, filter strips, and conservation tillage load reduction of NPS pollution in future scenarios varied at the field and watershed scales. This study demonstrates that BMP performance in terms of NPS pollution reduction changes in future climate scenarios at the field scale, while performance generally does not change significantly at the watershed scale.

This study, along with a discussion on reducing and controlling urban and rural runoff will be discussed during the Friday, April 13, 2012 session of the Webinar Series on Climate, Water and Agriculture sponsored by Michigan State University Extension. The Webinar Series consists of five one hour webinars on climate, water and their impact on Michigan agriculture which will air on Fridays from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. starting on Friday, March 9, 2012.

For a complete description of the five webinars and the dates and times of each webinar see this MSU Extension News article. Preregister for the webinars at: If you prefer to connect directly to the webinars the URL is

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