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State Climatologist Says Farmers Need More Tools In Their Tool Box To Combat Climate Change

Corn and soybeans are close to harvest in these north-central Iowa fields, Sept. 28, 2020.
Amy Mayer
Corn and soybeans are close to harvest in these north-central Iowa fields in late September. Iowa's state climatologist says despite changing conditions, Iowa will likely remain predominantly a corn and soybean state.

Some of Iowa’s climate records stretch back to the mid-1800s, which is why Iowa’s state climatologist, Justin Glisan, can say August 2020 was the driest in Iowa in 148 years.

Glisan told a virtual gathering of the Iowa Farmers Union Thursday that 30 years of weather history create climate information, and that can be used to identify trends.

Now, climate models for Iowa indicate extremes such as heavy spring rains and summer droughts are likely to continue.

"Our warms are becoming warmer, colds are colder, wets are wetter, dries are drier," Glisan said.

Glisan said because these changes are already affecting farmers, it’s time to find adaptions.

“They see these impacts,” Glisan said. “And we’re trying to build a toolbox of tools that they can use to lock-in that soil in runoff events.”

He said new hybrid seeds are part of the solution.

Climate is one factor that has contributed to Iowa’s transition from a state that grew a lot of wheat to one where corn and soybeans dominate. Glisan says that’s likely to continue, but he says there are increasingly favorable conditions for people who want to try something else.

“We are seeing an expanding growing window, expanding conditions that can allow us to diversify the types of crops we grow across the state,” he said.

For example, humidity has been increasing, which nudges up the overnight low temperature. That, in turn, creates conditions that are favorable for hemp.

Glisan said climate trends are also leading to a northward shift overall for the Corn Belt, into places like northern Minnesota and North Dakota.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames