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Specialty Crops and Climatic Variability

Specialty crops are an important component of the Midwest region’s rural economy with an estimated value of $1.8 billion (estimate from 2012). They are generally more sensitive to climatic stressors and require more comprehensive management compared to traditional row crops. Increasingly variable weather and climate change pose a serious threat to specialty crop production in the Midwest.  

  • Annual precipitation and heavy precipitation events are increasing, particularly in the spring. Too much spring rainfall disrupts planting, delays crop establishment, increases some fungal and bacterial crop disease incidence, and can lead to labor issues as delayed field work.

  • The average Midwest air temperature rose more than 1.5°F from 1900 to 2010. While rising temperatures have resulted in longer growing seasons (increased frost-free periods), crops that break dormancy too early under so-called ‘False Spring’ conditions are at risk for freeze and frost damage.

Temperature and precipitation fluctuations across the Midwest directly impact specialty crop production quantity and quality and indirectly influence the timing of crucial farm operations and the economic impacts of pests, weeds, and diseases. Midwest Climate Hub research fellow, Dr. Erica Kistner-Thomas has assessed how climate variability and observed climatic trends are impacting Midwestern specialty crop production using USDA Risk Management Agency data and has reviewed current trends in grower perceptions of risks associated with a changing climate. The results of this research indicate that specialty crop growers are aware of the increased production risk under a changing climate and have identified the need for crop-specific weather, production, and financial risk management tools and increased crop insurance coverage.

For more on Erica’s work, check out resources below.

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Vulnerability of specialty crops to short-term climatic variability and adaptation strategies in the Midwestern USA


Climate and Extreme Weather Events Taking a Toll on Specialty Crops in the Midwest

2-Page Summary of Research

Recent Trends in Climate/Weather Impacts on Midwestern Fruit and Vegetable Production

For additional information on specialty crop growers’ views on climate related issues, visit Iowa State University’s technical resources here.