If you’ve walked through the University of Missouri’s campus recently you may have noticed some surprising signs of spring. Picnic blankets have reemerged at Peace Park, trees are blossoming, and students are headed to class in shorts. While the warm weather is a welcome break from Missouri’s bleak winter, these unusual temperatures could be a threat to our local ecosystems and farmers.
Missouri’s most recent warming trend started on Feb.10 and extended all the way to Feb. 22, with highs topping 70 degrees Fahrenheit according to the National Weather Service. Columbia experienced record high temperatures on five different days this month, breaking previous records set during the Dust Bowl. Temperatures have since returned to more normal levels, but the local climate is far drier than in previous years.
“I do think the length of time we experienced 60 and 70 degree temperatures in February was abnormal. Typically, we’ll see a few days where temperatures are above average, but not for an extended amount of time like we experienced,” said Eric Aldrich, adjunct instructor of Meteorology and Learning and Teaching Technology coordinator at MU.
Aldrich says although the weather is unusual, it’s not a reliable indicator of future weather this spring. Aldrich notes that studying El Niño and La Niña, global weather patterns from the Pacific Ocean, will give better predictions for the long term.
While unusual weather during one month is not proof of climate change or a reason to worry, how often these extreme changes in the weather occur is concerning. The Environmental Protection Agency points to these patterns as evidence that weather extremes could become more common in the future.
Extreme changes in temperature can have effects on everyone, but if your income depends on the weather you are especially vulnerable.
For farmers, a drought can alter when a crop is harvested, how much it yields, and pasture quality for grazing. If dry conditions and warm weather persist, Missouri farmers will have to make changes in the way they farm.
One way to combat extreme weather is to switch to more environmentally friendly methods. Fred Martz, a professor emeritus in the MU Animal Science department and local farmer, is a big supporter of using sustainable methods in his ruminant grazing operation. Martz specializes in rotational grazing, a method he helped pioneer and that his son Kevin uses on the family farm today.
“In rotational grazing, cattle are put in paddocks and rotated to a new paddock in a much shorter time,” Martz said. “What we would recommend is that those animals are kept in the paddock for three or four days, and then they are moved to a new paddock. We rotate for the health of the pasture, the health of the plants, and the well-being of the soil. When we do that we increase the harvest somewhere between 30 to 50 percent.”
Rotational grazing is considered more sustainable than continual grazing because it decreases the use of nitrogen fertilizers on the soil, therefore decreasing fossil fuels during transporting and applying fertilizer. Rotational grazing can also help to reduce the damaging effects of extreme weather occurrences.
Rotational grazing isn’t the only option for farmers as sustainable practices are becoming more widely used. No-till crops, contour planting and cover crops are just a few of the many ways agriculture can adapt to survive extreme weather.
Farmers who use sustainable methods to take care of the land help to offset the damage caused by high temperatures. By buying from sustainable farmers you support the conservation of our food system, which helps to alleviate the stresses of climate change on our land and communities.