Science for Adaptation in Agricultural Systems

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The ability of farmers and the food production, processing, and distribution system to adapt to climate change will to a large extent determine the impacts of climate change on food production. Proposed short-term adaptation strategies include changes in farming locations; shifts in planting dates and crop varieties; increasing storage capacity, irrigation and chemical application; livestock management; and broader-level efforts such as investments in agricultural research (see the companion report Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change [NRC, 2010a]). However, not all farmers have access to these strategies. Small farms, farmers with substantial debt, and farmers without their own land are much more likely to suffer large negative impacts on their livelihoods.

Models that incorporate possible responses of farmers and markets to climate change generally project only small impacts on the agricultural economy of the United States. However, these models do not incorporate costs of adaptation, rates of technological change, changes in pests or diseases, or extreme events like heat waves, heavy rainfall, and flooding. Further research will thus be needed to develop a comprehensive and detailed understanding of how climate change will influence U.S. agricultural production and economics. Understanding of international food supplies, distribution, trade, and food security also remains quite limited.

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