Mont. farmers adapt to climate change

Posted: May 10, 2013

Written by

Karl Puckett, Great Falls Tribune/GW
Spring wheat

While spring planting in Montana might be a little behind this year because of a particularly cold winter, in the last 60 years the state has experienced a warming trend, a study showed.

Wheat researchers from Montana State University documented the trend by looking at weather and crop data from 1950 to 2007. The study, published in 2010 in the journal Crop Science, showed the annual mean temperature significantly increased.

This presents a problem because higher temperatures during wheat-growing season -- particularly around July, when wheat is "filling" with starch -- can cause plants to prematurely die and reduce crop yield.

On the flip side, higher temperatures, particularly during spring, have allowed farmers to start spring wheat seeding almost 12 days earlier than before, resulting in bigger grain yield.

Researchers concluded that while higher temperatures are a threat to hard red spring wheat in Montana, earlier planting has helped alleviate the negative impacts of higher temperatures.

According to Ron de Yong, director of the Montana Department of Agriculture, farmers are even planting more winter wheat today because of higher temperatures. Between 2002 and 2012, winter wheat crops almost doubled from 1.4 million acres to 2.3 million acres.

Farmers are also introducing more corn, soybeans, peas and lentils, said Kim Falcon, executive vice president of the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee. "We are seeing other crops moving into the state that are both competitive and complement wheat and barley," she said, because of longer growing days.

"With climate change, we'll either have to adapt or try to mitigate," de Yong said. "We're in a mode of adapting right now."

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