Market Forces

Farmers’ bottom lines at risk as growing conditions change

This blog was originally posted on EDF’s Growing Returns.

Iowa currently finds itself in a “Goldilocks climate,” with just the right measure and timing of humidity, rainfall and heat that help make the state a national leader in corn and soybean production. However, new research shows that climate change threatens to upset this balance.

Small shifts in rainfall and temperature can have considerable impacts on crops and farmer livelihoods. To better understand how these shifts could impact farmers, Environmental Defense Fund partnered with K·Coe Isom, an agricultural accounting and business advisory firm, to produce an in-depth report that quantifies the potential localized economic impacts from these shifts that Iowa corn and soy farmers could face as soon as the next 10 to 20 years.



Millions of dollars at stake in Iowa alone

Researchers found that farmers could see statewide gross farm revenues reduced by as much as $4.9 billion over the course of a decade — a loss of 3.6% of Iowa farm revenue from sales of corn, silage and soy.

Because with climate change agricultural prices are likely to rise, relative to without climate change, the impact to gross farm revenues from yield impacts will be offset to some degree by higher prices. Additional research is needed to understand how much agricultural regions like Iowa stand to offset yield losses through climate change-induced price increases.

With this caveat on unknown price increases, nearly every county in Iowa could experience decreases in gross farm revenues with losses of more than $50 million in almost half of the state’s counties in that same timeframe, and losses of more than $100 million in some western counties that are projected to experience higher yield reductions than the rest of the state.

Reductions in revenue would likely imply reductions in capital investment and off-farm spending. As a result, Iowa’s annual economic output could be reduced by between $367 million and $733 million, causing a statewide loss of 1,270 to 2,530 jobs, and reduce annual state revenue collections by $4 million to $8.3 million.

“A less desirable choice for the next generation”

The analysis drills down further by modeling how these crop yield impacts might affect a real representative family corn and soybean operation in central Iowa. The researchers obtained financial data for the farm, including harvest, sales and capital expenditure data, and modeled the impact of projected yield reductions on farm revenue over a five-year period (2014-2019).

When the anticipated crop yield declines from climate change were retroactively applied to the past five years, researchers found that the family farm would have lost between $50,000 and $90,000 in revenue per year, equaling a total potential loss of $360,000 over the five-year period.

As the farm owner observed, this reduction in revenue would have also made “returning to the farm a less desirable choice for the next generation,” and would have been “especially hard on those families newest to farming.”

Near-term solutions to avert economic loss

Much can be done to address climate change and minimize the financial impacts on farmers, and this report identifies a few ways federal, state and local governments can help mitigate emissions and help farmers further adapt to climate change.

Public funding and private sector programs can incentivize management practices that limit greenhouse gas emissions, improve soil health and build resilience in agriculture. For example, the federal crop insurance program could incorporate incentives for farmers that adopt practices that reduce crop yield risk.

Additionally, public funding could support the development of climate-resilient seed varieties, improvements to nutrient management and other climate adaptation strategies. Investing additional funding in Iowa’s public university systems to assist with the creation of practical, publicly available research could also help farmers put these strategies into practice.

Iowa’s farmers have adapted to changing farming conditions in the past, but climate change poses a more significant shift that requires a proactive response. Policymakers can help ensure farmers have the resources they need to withstand the growing risks posed by climate change and to protect the livelihoods and revenues that make Iowa a global agricultural leader.

For more information, download the full report.

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Costs of climate change are rising: New research shows how local communities could be strained in the near-term

This blog post was co-authored with Nina Donaldson

Much of the existing research on climate change impacts focuses on end-of-century projections across nations, but this misses the very real costs that everyday Americans are already facing daily and will continue to face in the months and years ahead. Case in point today: While most Americans believe that climate change currently affects the U.S., only about a third of the adult population believes that local effects of climate change directly impact their personal lives.

And perceiving that threat on an individual level is a key motivator for pushing meaningful action.

While the impacts of climate change can sometimes feel abstract, the reality is that communities across the country are bearing the burden of climate damages here and now through heat waves, severe thunderstorms, wildfires, and flooding – to name a few – even if they are not making a direct connection themselves between those events and climate change. A new research series by Environmental Defense Fund underscores specifically where and how the potential costs could impact individual counties as soon as the next 20 years.

Behind the research

The Costs of Inaction research series draws on data from multiple sources, including a first-of-its kind study by Hsiang et al. 2017, developed through the Climate Impact Lab, which highlights climate costs and impacts from key sectors. Our research also draws from the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Underwater report and First Street Foundation’s Flood Factor data.

From these studies, we extract locally relevant data for several U.S. states projected to experience severe impacts, such as in Florida and Arizona. We examine an array of climate change impacts, including loss of property tax revenue from flooding, increased heat-related deaths, higher electricity costs, and declining crop yields. These represent only some of the detrimental effects that many already experience today and that we can expect to see worsen over the next 20 years and beyond.

International challenge, local costs

For example, Floridians already pay 13% more than the national average for electricity, but without ambitious action on climate, they can expect to see increases of more than 5% annually, paying up to an additional $122 on their electricity bills every year over the next 20 years. This will be especially straining on low-income households, which already spend roughly 10% of their income on electricity costs – three times the proportion of what the average household typically spends on electricity costs.

Arizonians will also face similar annual increases in their electricity bills to keep their homes cool as more extreme heat days occur. Exposure to extreme heat can be deadly, causing heat stroke, dehydration, and other serious issues. With two of the fastest-warming cities in the nation, Arizonians face an increasing threat, particularly in urban areas where dark pavement, buildings, and other structures that absorb heat make temperatures even hotter. In Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, a 64% increase in heat-related deaths could occur every single year over the next 20 years. This puts our children, elderly, and sick at great risk as well as those who lack access to air conditioning.

Mapping the costs

As part of this research series, EDF also created new interactive maps of Florida and Arizona that highlight the near-term costs of climate inaction, which allow the user to explore additional costs at the county level for these two states. These costs include estimated heat-related mortality (additional deaths per 100,000 people), electricity expenditure increases (estimated using a version of the EIA’s National Energy Modeling System (NEMS) both for businesses and individual households), and losses in crop yields and property tax revenue. All estimates assume a high emissions scenario in which fossil fuel-intensive economic growth continues and no ambitious climate action is pursued. These interactive maps are designed to allow local policymakers, advocates, and stakeholders to explore the impacts in their county.

EDF also commissioned an in-depth report from RTI International, a Raleigh-based research institute, to use these data to show how climate change impacts will impose significant costs on North Carolina’s residents and its economy. The report showcases the projected costs that eight major sectors of the state’s economy may face within the next 20 to 30 years if measures to curb climate-warming pollution are not taken.

EDF’s research series makes clear that the costs of climate inaction are being felt in our lifetimes and will only grow exponentially worse over time. It’s crucial we enact ambitious climate policy to mitigate the most severe impacts. To explore how climate change will impact your local community, visit the Cost of Inaction Research series.

 

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