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Managing moisture in a drier world

It’s official: 2016 was the warmest year on record. The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports the average global surface temperature reached 14.83 C – the warmest it’s been since modern temperature records began in 1880.


April 12, 2017
By Brandi Cowen

A separate analysis from NASA considered average surface temperature readings from 6,300 weather stations, as well as ship- and buoy-based sea surface temperature readings and temperatures collected from Antarctic research stations. The agency reports the planet’s global average surface temperature has risen about 1.1 C since 1880; 0.99 C of that increase has been recorded since the middle of the 20th century. Sixteen of the 17 warmest years on file have been recorded since 2001.

“2016 is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in a press release. “We don’t expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear.”

Changes in the climate may offer some benefits to some producers (longer growing seasons, anyone?). However, they also threaten to change the conditions under which producers have learned to grow profitable crops. According to Natural Resource Canada’s 2014 report “Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation,” longer growing seasons will result in less snow cover during the winter and less rain through the summer. The result? Less water will be available for thirsty crops.

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Researchers are searching for tools and techniques to ensure future crops will have the water they need to survive. One possible solution may be found in bioprecipitation. The idea, which was first proposed more than 30 years ago, is that bacteria and other biological particles associated with plants can contribute to the formation of ice in clouds, which, in turn, causes precipitation. Cindy Morris, research director in plant pathology at the French National Agricultural Research Institute and an affiliate professor at Montana State University, is part of a team that discovered various bacteria, pollen, algae, fungi and lichen particles that can contribute to ice formation. 

It’s not exactly rainfall on demand, but bioprecipitation offers one possible route around some of the obstacles presented by a warming world, and that’s good news for producers. But it’s not the only tool being studied to help producers manage moisture in their fields.

Researchers are also exploring how water management systems can help farmers manage moisture in their fields. Installing water flow control structures on tile drained land can not only protect crops during periods of heavy rainfall, but also provide much needed moisture during dry periods. One study out of North Dakota found closing control structures when rain was lacking boosted hard red spring wheat yields by roughly three bushels per acre. A project to assess yield benefits here in Ontario got underway late last year and will continue for at least one more year.

On behalf of everyone at Top Crop Manager, I wish you a prosperous and profitable season. Here’s hoping for rain when you need it, and blue skies and sunshine when you don’t.