Climate change is posing a formidable challenge for Oklahoma's wheat industry: how to plan and prepare for hotter temperatures, drier conditions, and greater extremes in weather. A study in Nature Climate Change estimates that wheat yields will fall by 6% for each degree Celsius rise in temperature. This reality is motivating crop researchers to develop varieties of wheat that are better suited to a hotter, drier future in Oklahoma and the rest of the Great Plains.
According to Dr. Brett Carver, leader of Oklahoma State University's Wheat Improvement Team, it takes about 10 years to develop a wheat variety that’s ready for commercial production. His team is conducting wheat breeding and genetics research with an eye towards planning for several climate change impacts at once, including drought, disease, and unpredictable temperature patterns. He says that there's been an increase in “wacky freeze events” — late-season frosts that happen when winter wheat crops are already producing grain and especially vulnerable to serious damage. Meanwhile, longer dry spells mean that "dry land wheat" farmers will need to invest in costly irrigation systems to account for reduced rainfall in the region, which in turn puts additional stress on local water sources.
The economic implications of these local climate impacts provide a powerful motivator for civic leaders, farmers, researchers, and other community members to work together to best prepare and adapt to these new realities. Please join us on the Path to a Positive future.
In the four years since it began, the drought that has gripped much of Oklahoma has caused millions of dollars in damage to the state’s agricultural industry.
The upside, if there is one, is that it’s also given state wheat researchers a glimpse of the kinds of conditions climate change could bring to Oklahoma. That knowledge is helping researchers make sure the wheat keeps waving in Oklahoma for generations to come.
Researchers are working to develop strains of wheat that would be better able to cope with conditions that scientists predict the state could see by mid-century. Brett Carver, a professor of wheat breeding and genetics at Oklahoma State University, said one of the biggest challenges is trying to plan for several variables at once, including drought, disease and unpredictable temperature patterns.
“We are really chasing a moving target,” Carver said.
Climate scientists predict Oklahoma and the rest of the Great Plains can expect a hotter, drier future as the effects of climate change become more severe.
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