Climate change is usually talked of as a negative, and it often acts accordingly through more weather volatility and more extreme weather events. But occasionally, climate change gives farmers a helping hand.
Case in point – take a look at Kansas. In 2015, the growing season (as defined as the time between the last spring freeze and the first fall freeze) averaged 193 days across the state, which is almost 20 days longer than typical, according to Chip Redmond and Mary Knapp with Kansas State University’s Weather Data Library. Kansas farmers saw both a longer frost-free spring and fall, they report.
“The average final spring reading of 32 degrees F or less was April 18, a week later than the climatology average of April 11,” they note. “The 2015 fall freezes averaged two weeks later than the climatological average of October 28.”
Redmond and Knapp note results varied widely by individual location. Cheyenne County, in the northwest corner of the state, had a 131-day growing season – 26 days less than average. Meantime, Chautauqua County in the southeast part of the state saw a 231-day growing season – 28 days more than average. That’s a 100-day difference just across Kansas.
Gene Takle, director of Iowa State University’s Climate Science program, says this trend has not just benefited Kansas farmers. A longer growing season has been observed in many other areas, too.
“There have been pluses and minuses. It’s a mixed bag,” he says. “Climate has been favorable enough on balance to help yields the past 15 years. But if these trends continue, those gains are at risk.”