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Croplands in a Changing Climate

The effects of climate change on crop production will vary by region, and will largely be a factor of impacts on resources important to agricultural production, such as soil and water.

Soils provide a wide variety of ecosystem services, including regulating carbon through sequestration and providing a structure to support crop plants. Erosion of soil, the primary source for soil particles to leave agricultural fields, may increase in certain areas of the U.S. due to climate change. Some areas of the country will experience less rainfall, causing soils to dry out. Combined with higher winds, this may lead to higher rates of wind erosion. Other areas may experience more intensive rainstorms, which can increase erosion rates by washing out stream banks, for example. Other factors affecting soil erosion that may increase or decrease due to climate change include changing irrigation needs, snowmelt patterns, soil erodibility, conservation practices, and topography.

Changing climate conditions are also likely to affect water resources, which will have broad impacts on the U.S. crop sector. Rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns will alter crop-water requirements, crop-water availability, crop productivity, and costs of water access. Dryland production may be particularly sensitive to shifting climatic conditions, as changes in growing season precipitation and soil water evaporation directly affect soil-moisture reserves essential for dryland crops.

Temperatures are expected to increase with climate change, which can have negative impacts on plants during critical reproductive growth phases. Studies have shown that this can reduce yields. Other research shows that higher temperatures allow for earlier planting and longer growing seasons, which may increase yields.

Responding to Climate Change

Conservation tillage, crop residue management, and cover crops are examples of management practices that can help mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. These practices can also help crops be more resilient to changes in soil erosion, precipitation, and temperature. USDA offers conservation programs to assist farmers in adopting these types of technologies.

USDA’s Climate Hubs aim to better prepare farmers with adaptive responses to climate change by working with producers and partners to deliver science-based, region-specific information and technologies to enable climate-smart decision making.

This page features information from USDA's 2013 report, Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation.

Additional resources can be found on the Economic Research Service's Climate Change Page.