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Midwest's agriculture feeling the impact of climate change

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Abbie Fentress Swanson
Harvest Public Media

Extreme weather events and fluctuating temperatures caused by climate change are directly affecting agriculture in America's breadbasket.

Farmers like Tom Ruggieri, co-owner of Fair Share Farm in Kearney, Missouri, say that extreme weather events have repeatedly caused damage to their crops.

Unexpected cold spikes in traditionally warmer times of the year have also had an impact on the yields of 'frost tender' crops for Midwest farmers.

Silvia Secchi is a professor in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at the University of Iowa. She says that, especially in drier climates like western Kansas, rain is occurring less frequently, causing long droughts that then end in extreme amounts of rain falling at one time.

"Your crops don't really want to have all their rain once a month, they want to have it more regularly. And unfortunately, what we're seeing is that we have these bigger storms," says Secchi, "instead of having the kind of precipitation patterns that crops really need to grow as best as they can."

Agriculture holds a unique distinction in its relationship to how it impacts climate change. While it is certainly part of the problem when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, it can also be a significant part of the solution. Tom Ruggieri says his operation participates in the sequestering of carbon.

"We do a lot of cover cropping," he says. "Our goal is soil health. So, we've shown through sampling our soil for the past 20 years that we've raised the organic matter in our soil almost two percent, and that represents the amount of carbon that we've stored in the ground."

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