Name: Sarah Vines
Essay Theme: Weather and Crop Production
State: North Carolina
School: East Wake Academy
Impact of Weather Anomalies on Agriculture
For as long as we've known, there's always been an unexplained weather event in our oceans. Though we've only recently uncovered the mechanisms behind these anomalies, crops and farms worldwide have always been affected.
The weather anomaly that Americans are most familiar with is the El Nino pattern. El Nino brings warm temperature and a surge of wet air. This cycle has always occurred; however, over the years it's intensified, devastating rural farm-dependent areas as far as the Atlantic coast.
Recent El Nino cycles began in the 1970s and appeared last in the late 1990s. the most severe of these in the last century were the 1987 and 1997 patterns. When El Nino sweeps through, it brings periods of extreme drought and heavy flooding, withering and saturating the crops all in a couple of months. This happens mainly in the Pacific areas, though damage is evident as far as America's eastern coast, as the cycle for southeastern crops is disrupted. It is also noted that a huge threat to farmers is the spring after El Nino comes through, because of the numbers of plant diseases and a boom in the insect population.
Another known event, though not as familiar to American farmers, is the Indian Monsoon. Monsoons are seasonal changes in weather. In the areas of India, Pakistan, and Pacific countries, these changes are drastic. In 1987, there was a drought in Asia, from Afghanistan to the Philippines. This drought was attributed to El Nino, resulting in below-normal rainfall and scorching temperatures damaging crops. Main-season crops all over southern Asia were reduced in production. The western and southern oilseed, grain, and cotton areas, along with rice in the east, are rain fed and rely on the normal weather patterns. These crops suffer the most when El Nino arrives, changing their regular Indian Monsoon. In the same 1987 drought, the temperatures were record low in the northern and central rain-fed farms, making summer-planted crop production plummet. The irrigated fall-planted crops tried to balance the shortfall, but also suffered losses. Another setback for the farmers is late monsoon surges, which soak the crops and bring diseases because of the heavy rains.
It is evident from the intensity of the most recent El Nino that our climate is changing. While it may just be variations of the sun's energy, some scientists believe these storms and fluctuations of weather cycles are due to global warming. Global warming does affect our agriculture. Deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels puts large amounts of CO2 in our atmosphere. Scientists working in agriculture believe that if we put more carbon in the soil, it can help offset the effects of global warming. By sequestering carbon in trees and plants, it helps fertilize the soil so that the CO2 can be used for photosynthesis. If we do this, the impact of El Nino, and all the weather anomalies it brings, won't be nearly as intense as it was in 1987 and 1997.
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). 2000. Storing Carbon in Agricultural Soils to Help Mitigate Global Warming. Cast Issue Paper No. 14. <http://www.cast-science.org/pdf/gl02_ip.pdf>
Encarta Encyclopedia. 2001. El Nino. Microsoft.
Joint Agricultural Weather Facility. El Nino: Background, mechanics, and impact. Appendix II of Major World Crop Areas and Climatic Profiles, <http://www.usda.gov/oce/waob/jawf/profiles/specials/enso/enso.htm>
Joint Agricultural Weather Facility. The Indian Monsoon and its impact on agriculture. Appendix II of Major World Crop Areas and Climatic Profiles, <http://www.usda.gov/oce/waob/jawf/profiles/specials/monsoon/monsoon.htm>
This essay was part of a 2003 essay contest sponsored by Council for Agricultural Science & Technology. Click here to see how essays were selected.