Upper Midwest Climate Variations: Farmer Responses to Excess Water Risks


Persistent above average precipitation and runoff and associated increased sediment transfers from cultivated ecosystems to rivers and oceans are due to changes in climate and human action. The US Upper Midwest has experienced a 37% increase in precipitation (1958-2012), leading to increased crop damage from excess water and off-farm loss of soil and nutrients. Farmer adaptive management responses to changing weather patterns have potential to reduce crop losses and address degrading soil and water resources. This research used farmer survey (n = 4778) and climate data (1971-2011) to model influences of geophysical context, past weather, on-farm flood and saturated soils experiences, and risk and vulnerability perceptions on management practices. Seasonal precipitation varied across six Upper Midwest subregions and was significantly associated with variations in management. Increased warm-season precipitation (2007-2011) relative to the past 40 yr was positively associated with no-till, drainage, and increased planting on highly erodible land (HEL). Experience with saturated soils was significantly associated with increased use of drainage and less use of no-till, cover crops, and planting on HEL. Farmers in counties with a higher percentage of soils considered marginal for row crops were more likely to use no-till, cover crops, and plant on HEL. Respondents who sell corn through multiple markets were more likely to have planted cover crops and planted on HEL in 2011.This suggests that regional climate conditions may not well represent individual farmers' actual and perceived experiences with changing climate conditions. Accurate climate information downscaled to localized conditions has potential to influence specific adaptation strategies.

Journal of Environmental Quality 44(3), p. 810-822