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Responding to Climatic Challenges

Responding to Climatic Challenges

Lessons from U.S. Agricultural Development

Chapter:
(p.169) 6 Responding to Climatic Challenges
Source:
The Economics of Climate Change
Author(s):
Alan L. OlmsteadPaul W. Rhode
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226479903.003.0007

This chapter provides a long-term perspective for understanding how American farmers have responded to new and challenging growing environments that in some cases involved greater temperature variations than are forecast in many contemporary climate change scenarios. The chapter examines the regional climatic barriers that were encountered in the expansion of the agricultural frontier across North America and the collaborative innovations of farmers, agricultural experiment and extension agents, and seed companies in responding to them for wheat, corn, and cotton. These changes for the most part occurred before a modern understanding of plant genetics informed breeding activities. The evidence says nothing directly about the ability of future farmers aided by rapid advances in plant sciences to respond to climatic changes, but the historical adjustment process does indicate that the malleability of the agricultural enterprise rendered obsolete the predictions of many past experts. The historical record does show that farmers were able to develop technologies to push crop production into areas previously thought unsuitable for agriculture because of the harsh climatic conditions.

Keywords:   U.S. agriculture, climate change, plant sciences, breeding activities, atmospheric changes, global warming, crop production

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