Agricultural Adaptation in a Changing Climate

Ongoing changes in climate have substantial impacts on the $76 billion agricultural sector in the Midwest. Assisting producers with adaptation practices that can improve their water availability and maintain soil productivity, will also reduce the variation in crop production among years and create a more climate resilient system.

As the scientific understanding of the effects and consequences of climate variability and change improves, agricultural producers are searching for ways to apply this information to planning and decision making and put it into action. To help producers adapt to a changing climate in the Midwest, agricultural adaptation practices are being researched and put into play across the Midwest. Diversity across this region, both in terms of climate and in agricultural commodities produced, indicates that responses to climate change and variability will vary by location and commodity. Often these adaptation measures can simultaneously provide co-benefits towards multiple goals, such as soil health improvement, water quality protection, wildlife habitat management, or greenhouse gas mitigation, and may or may not be distinguishable from on-farm practices already planned or underway.

It is important to acknowledge that agricultural producers continuously adjust to changing conditions (i.e. market price fluctuations, increasing input costs, new neighbors, labor shortages, pest invasions, and adverse weather conditions). Climate change adaptation can help to reduce the risks from climate variability and change, increase the resilience of systems to potential disruptions, and even alter systems to be better able to take advantage of future conditions.

A changing climate introduces challenges for producers in the Midwest. To help farmers adjust their practices or even transform their operations to meet these challenges, the USDA Northeast, Midwest, and Northern Forests Climate Hubs collaborated to develop . This is a compilation of information about climate change considerations and responses. Authors from the U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Agricultural Research Service teamed up to review climate change literature and develop easy to understand guidance for on-farm decision-making. The two-pager summarizing the Adaptation Resource can be found

The is intended to leverage modern data sources and help local farming communities, better address soil and water conservation needs. We believe water quality challenges can be better met by improving the quality of information used to identify conservation options in watersheds and on farms. High-resolution geo-spatial datasets that can improve the information base available for conservation planning have recently become available. The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) toolbox can be used within the ArcGIS® (Ver. 10.2 – 10.5) environment to analyze soils, land use, and high-resolution topographic data to identify a broad range of opportunities to install conservation practices in fields and in watersheds. These can then become non-prescriptive approaches that encourage farmers and landowners to become engaged in local watershed improvement.

NRCS works with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners across the country to help them boost agricultural productivity and protect our natural resources through conservation. Common technical assistance includes: resource assessment, practice design and resource monitoring. Your conservation planner will help you determine if financial assistance is right for you. Technical assistance is also available online through

The Midwest Cover Crop Council () Cover Crop Decision Tools are web-based systems to assist farmers in selecting cover crops to include in field crop and vegetable rotations.