Climate Change Could Benefit Eastern Washington Crops in Short Term

May 14, 2014

Last week, the National Climate Assessment was issued. Now, a WSU researcher says some of the predictions could mean benefits, at least in the near term, for Eastern Washington agriculture.
Chad Kruger is the director of the WSU center for sustainable agriculture and natural resources. He was a co-author of the agriculture chapter of the North West climate assessment, a summary of which was used to put together the National Assessment. Most of that research focused on central and eastern Washington.

Kruger says while the national summary indicated climate change would cause a decrease in agricultural yields in the next fifty years, there were some different results found for eastern Washington.

Kruger: "We're far enough north that a little bit of warming actually helps. Some of our projections say out to about mid century the amount of warming that is projected in going to be a benefit to crop yields in our region.”

Kruger adds that the increase in CO2 in the environment will be beneficial as well, as compared to regions where corn is the main crop.

Kruger: “Where in the Pacific Northwest our predominant crops are wheat, tree fruit, forages, potatoes, these kinds of crops, which do get that benefit. When you combine the fact we have a little warmer temperatures and an almost fertilizer effect from additional CO2, we actually look pretty good in the pacific northwest out until about mid century.”

Kruger says there are a couple of caveats. In areas that are dependant on irrigation water, like much of Eastern Washington, the warmer temperatures will likely affect mountain snowpack, and for places with problems getting water later in the year, that could be an isssue.

He says the other issue is that researchers have only scratched surface what climate change might mean in terms of weeds and insect pests.

Kruger says it’s likely past the mid century point the positive effects of climate change will be canceled out for our region when it comes to crop yields. He also says newly developed strains of crops may have a better time dealing with the changing climate 60 years down the road.