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Climate Change


Delaware's agriculture

Agriculture is Delaware’s largest industry. According to 2005 data from the USDA, agriculture in the state is well over a billion-dollar industry, with most of it coming from livestock, mainly broiler chickens ($844 million).

The major crops in Delaware are corn ($36 million), soybeans ($28 million), and wheat ($10 million), along with vegetables for the fresh market ($29 million).

Because agricultural production is closely tied to climate and water supply, farmers throughout the Northeast, including Delaware, will face increasing uncertainty and risk as they adapt to changes in the region’s climate.

To date, analysis shows that aggregate U.S. food production will not be harmed by climate change in the short-run, though there may be significant regional changes. In fact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report, “moderate climate change” will likely increase yields of North American crops such as corn, rice, soybeans, and wheat by 5 to 20 percent over the next few decades.

Above: A combine harvests soybeans in Kent County. Soybeans are one of Delaware's major crops, bringing an estimated $30 million annually to the state's economy.

If this projection holds true for Delaware, this could be good news for farmers who farm these crops. However, there are a number of negative impacts from climate change that the Delaware agricultural industry should be aware of—including summer heat stress, drought, and increased pest-related damage. While farmers in the Northeast may benefit from warmer temperatures and extended growing periods, “many traditional farm operations in the region will become unsustainable without adaptation strategies that could be quite costly.” (Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment, 2007)


According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the effects of climate change could cause major crop yields in Delaware to decline by as much as 32 percent or to rise by as much as 24 percent. Crop productivity is tied to a host of factors, including temperature, water supply, the weather, competition from weeds and pests, and even atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. With continued climate change, many of these factors may alter productivity in in Delaware., altering productivity. For example, according to the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NCIA), warmer weather is projected to increase the growing season in the Northeast by four to six weeks by the end of the century.

Milk production is Delaware's second-largest livestock commodity, pulling in $21 million annually. The Delaware dairy industry could suffer from rising temperatures. Studies show that a temperature rise can decrease milk production and birthing rates in cattle. Photo: USDA









While this will benefit farmers who grow crops that require longer growing seasons, rising temperatures also will cause hardship for farmers who grow crops that require significant periods of frost and winter chill for optimum flowering, fruit set, and seed development.  

Increased temperatures in Delaware also will cause problems as all crops will face increased risk of summer heat stress and drought. Crops like corn, wheat, and oats—all of which are grown in Delaware—tend to have lower yields as summer temperatures rise (NCIA, 2007).

Rising temperatures and drought are likely to increase irrigation demands in Delaware as dry soil and transpiration (the evaporation from the leaves of a plant’s pores) increase.

More frequent irrigation, in turn, will increase demands on the state’s water supply. And although climate change is predicted to bring more frequent and stronger rainstorms, the rain that these “heavy precipitation” events bring can further jeopardize farmers’ profits by ruining crop fields and soils and disrupting spring planting (NCIA, 2007).

Rising temperatures also are projected to escalate weed and pest-related problems for farmers, requiring additional use of herbicides and pesticides. One particular concern to regional agriculture is that warmer temperatures will extend the ranges and voracity of certain weed species, perhaps encouraging the spread of southern invasive weeds that currently cause major crop loss into northern areas (NCIA, 2007).

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