Climate Change Adaptation for Animal Agriculture
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Climate Change Adaptation for Animal Agriculture

October 24, 2019


Farmers themselves are starting to see trends.
They’re responding. While we’re seeing changes in climate, we’re
also seeing farmers adapt. Farmers have growing concerns about the impacts
of changing temperatures and precipitation patterns on farm profitability. Unless people are adaptable, and unless people
can think ahead, you’re putting yourself in a pretty serious position. Many are looking to reduce these impacts through
management changes or implementing new technologies. This is referred to as Climate Change Adaptation. Hi, my name is David Schmidt and I am an agricultural
engineer at the University of Minnesota and regional coordinator for the Animal Agriculture
in a Changing Climate Project. My father grew up on a farm and remembers
well the dust bowl, the great depression, and working the field with horses. In this
photo, my father is the one sitting between his sisters and riding with his grandparents
in a horse drawn buggy. Here is my father 85 years later, touring
a new swine gestation barn complete with a geothermal cooling system for the sows. Agriculture
has changed significantly in his lifetime. Some changes have been driven by science and
technology. Developments in diet, genetics, feeding, buildings, equipment, and business
structure – all resulting in producing more with less. Other changes have been driven by policy or
regulations to make our food supply more safe and secure. World population growth, water availability,
water quality, consumer demands, and concerns about agricultural pollution willl likely
accelerate changes in agricultural production. This will be a challenge for farmers across
the globe. In addition, in many geographic areas, farmers will be challenged with significant
changes in climate. In this lesson on adaptation to climate change,
we will be discussing both reactive adaptation and anticipatory adaptation. Reactive adaptation
refers to the short term adjustments that farmers make in response to current climate
conditions. Anticipatory adaptation includes any long term planning and changes made as
a result of predicted climate changes. Both are important. Farmers are already adapting. So you see farmers
that are planting earlier, that are relying on larger equipment to be able to get into
the field quicker, because their planting windows are shorter and the seasons . . . springs
in particular have been wet across the Midwest and northeast. We’ve seen farmers that are
going back and installing more tile drainage and increasing drainage to deal with these
wet conditions. And so while we’re seeing changes in climate,
we’re also seeing farmers adapt to what they’re seeing on the ground. Now that adaptation
so far, that adaptation has been reactive. Farmers are responding to what they’re seeing
on the ground, what they’ve seen over the last three to five seasons, and trying to
plan accordingly. And that’s working for now. But as we look forward, we’re going
to see an acceleration of climate change. That’s what all of the analysis is showing,
is that the trends that we’ve been seeing which have been about 0.2 degrees of warming
per decade, we expect that to increase. Over the next century or by the middle of the century
we could be seeing 0.6 to 0.8 degrees of warming per decade. And at that point, farmers are
going to have trouble keeping up if we just rely on reactive adaptation. We will be discussing adaptation strategies
– reactive and anticipatory – through the lens of a climate audit we will divide the
farm into four segments to help organize the audit. We will be using Farm Inputs, Animal
Production, Logistics, and Farm Exports. Some adaptation strategies may be short term and
will affect the farm’s current management practices and decisions. Long term adaptation
strategies include things like investing in genetics, buildings, or equipment, or diversifying
the farm. Making decisions about which adaptation strategies
to implement requires data. Unfortunately, the data on future climate conditions is uncertain,
and that can make decisions on whether to invest in long-term strategies more complicated
as they weigh the cost of investing against the potential benefits.
Farmers are always looking for ways to cut their costs and ensure their profitability.
And this would be no different than any other kind of technology that they would sit down
and say okay I’m losing x number of sows that we’re gonna attribute to heat stress,
and that’s costing me y dollars per year, if I put some sort of mitigation strategy
in, whether it’s a geothermal or whether it’s just air source heat pump or something,
and that system’s gonna cost me x, and it’s gonna cost me so much to manage it and keep
it operating, and they’ll do the math and say it’ll pay back in 35 years—nah, I’ll
wear the cost of the lost sows. If it’s gonna pay it back in 3 or 4 or whatever their
break point is, they’ll say yeah we’ll have a go at it. And then technology will
get better and they’ll pay it back quicker. The farm audit begins with farm inputs, We
will look at ways to reduce the exposure of these farm inputs to the risk of climate uncertainty.
These inputs include water, feed, energy, young stock shipped onto the farm and other
farm supplies. Climate adaptation is also referred to as
‘building of climate resilience’, ‘reducing climate vulnerability’, or ‘reducing climate
risks’. Reducing climate risks for the important farm
inputs of feed and water will mean something different to farmers who grow their own feed
versus those who purchase feed. It means something different for farmers who pump water from
an aquifer than it does for those who get it from a river sourced by snow melt. It may
also be of greater concern for some than others depending on local climate trends or climate
projections. Many farmers are already adapting their feed
systems to become more resilient. They are making changes in crop rotations, crop genetics,
or in forage and pasture management. I think what is probably helping to reduce
the effects of these changes are the way we’re managing the animals, managing the grazing.
I’m using a planned grazing process where it is using high density short duration grazing
. . . And so even when we are getting into those
periods when we’re having a summer – dryer summer, for instance, that we’re able to
get through that because of the planning process and because we’re able to produce more forage.
Because I know that there are going to be times when maybe I am going to have to sell
animals if I don’t have enough feed. One of the most critical points is to manage
stocking rates to match pasture availability in natural grazing systems. If you don’t
do that you end up overgrazing and getting longer term degradation and damage to the
environment. And that is not helpful to the farmers in the long term in terms of income
but it is also not helpful to the environment. So the recommendations we can make are to
manage in advance for your stocking numbers – the number of animals you hold relative
to feed, to feed early so to down stock early and to feed early. That’s easy to say but
it’s not easy to do in terms of feed costs and the capacity to offload animals. But that’s
the first recommendation. The second recommendation is to look to the future to how you can improve
your grazing systems to be more drought tolerant in the species that you might sow into your
pastures. . . . So those can be proactive and get it up on
the early side of the drought, and have that flexibility in the system to make management
decisions ahead of time before that drought becomes an economic devastation to that enterprise. A lot of ways that individual producers try
to prepare themselves better for drought is to improve the monitoring on their farm.
If we can improve soil health, improve organic matter in soils, they turn out to be more
resilient to extremes—both extremely wet conditions and extremely dry conditions. So
soil health is going to be a key part of our strategy going forward. Genetics is another
important strategy. We’ve seen improvements in the crops that we’ve grown over time,
and that’s resulted in improved productivity, but it has also resulted in crops being more
resilient to things like drought. And so the crops we have today that we’re working with,
the soy bean and corn crop in particular, is a stronger crop—stronger root systems,
deeper root systems, and those plants are more likely to withstand drought than even
the crops that we had 20 years ago. One farm in South Dakota recently made news
headlines with its comprehensive adaptation strategy to survive drought. This 5 points
strategy involved: adding more forage reserve both standing and stored, managed grazing
to build resiliency in soils and grasses, storing more hay to supplement forage, monitoring
rainfall and soil moisture, adjusting animal numbers after anticipating the future forage
supply Other short term adaptations for farm inputs
in areas prone to drought might include: More efficient crop irrigation or planting drought
tolerant crops , better soil management to enhance water retention, additional capacity
in stock tanks or farm ponds, integrated pest management programs, since climate change
can cause new disease and weed problems for crops, additional feed suppliers or more feed
storage on the farm, multiple suppliers of young stock, increasing the farm buildings’
resilience may require additional fuel storage or additional back up electrical generation
if the farm’s energy supply, fuels or electricity are vulnerable. Long term adaptation strategies for farm inputs
should also be considered: Ensuring an adequate feed supply might require
more extensive pasture or rangeland improvements. It may require changing crops or tillage to
better match climate conditions. Water security may mean drilling new wells,
installing new irrigation systems, expanding farm ponds, or purchasing water rights. Long term adaptation might even include moving
animals to other geographic regions with a better water supply. The animal production phase of the farm operation
is also quite vulnerable to climate changes. Often this vulnerability might show up in
the form of heat stress on the animals. Heat stress may impact production and reproduction,
and can also increase the risk of diseases and other animal health concerns. Short term adaptation strategies to prevent
heat stress in animal production should include more monitoring and better management of existing
systems, making sure the ventilation system is working properly, adjusting temperature
set points, monitoring animal behavior for signs of heat stress, making sure animal cooling
systems are operational in the early spring and late fall, improved protocols for feeding
in hot and cold weather, adding more watering locations, shade structures or other heat
abatement systems. Many of the short-term adaptation strategies
for heat stress just described are already deployed on most farms. Proper cooling requires
protection from the sun with either shading or a building followed by good air exchanges
in any buildings and adequate air speed across the animals. Proper cooling also includes
misting systems or soaker systems for animals that lose heat through evaporative cooling.
It is also important to focus cooling strategies on areas such as the holding areas in dairies
or wherever animal density is greatest. Farmers and animal production experts can
describe the many benefits of implementing these short-term adaptation strategies for
heat stress. I would say spray cooling probably is most
common, I would say one of the advantages of it, in loose housing where cows are feeding
at a common feed area, is that where the spray cooling would be, it would soak them, and
usually it’s a cycle of anywhere from 5-10 minutes, it would soak them for 1-2 minutes
and then it would evaporate for the rest of that period. For our sow farms we have a cool cell system
which essentially is a filter before the air comes into the barn and cool water comes down.
We can drop the temperature about 10 degrees, at best, from outside temperature. So for grow finishing we are naturally ventilated,
which we’re counting on the wind. We are counting on outside temperatures. We do have
a mister system to replicate sweating. That won’t go on till about 85 degrees. We turn
it on for about 10 minutes and then we turn it off for about 20 minutes or as long as
it takes to evaporate things so you don’t soak the pigs the whole time. They’ll stand up, so you’ll see a lot
more animals standing. So you’ll see a lot more animals standing, rumination will actually
go down, you’ll actually get a decrease in activity, so even though they’re standing
they won’t be walking around as much, they’ll try to stand in one spot. So all of these
behavioral changes not only can you pick them up and they have economic losses to the farm
from a production standpoint but with some of the technologies that we have today we
can identify these behavioral changes and then hopefully go in and make changes at the
farm level to cool the animal or alleviate some of that stress. If I can pick up that
this animal is started to become heat-stressed and I can
find out where that is and I can start cooling at that time point and wherever that is on
the farm, once I’m visually able to see a cow open-mouth, panting, and saliva, the
heat stress as occurred, the damage is done. So I want to go in and start cooling and prevent
that animal from getting elevated temperature and prevent her going into stress because
once you can visually see it most of the time milk production and the other switches physiologically
will already have occurred and so that’s some of the challenges is trying to identify
heat stress before it happens. I think the other thing is, and I run into
this a fair amount is people that have a lot of cooling put in, but they get so busy, there’s
so many things going on – they come in the spring with farming, and school activities,
you name it and so I’ll go into a farm that has a ton of cooling technology but they didn’t
clean the fans, or a third of the fans aren’t working, and the shades on the side of the
barn, half of them are still up because they forgot to pull them down to allow the air
flow to go through. Or you look at the nozzle heads on the sprayers and a third of those
aren’t working. So I encourage the guys – make sure you know – just do a heat
stress audit on your farm. Make sure everything’s working, everything’s clean, your nozzles
are working, well before summer hits. Don’t wait until summer hits to go out and start
making the change because once an animal experiences heat stress, again, talking about damaging
the eggs and you’ll see the effects for a month and a half, two months. Once heat
stress occurs, it’s hard to recover from that. So catch it before heat stress occurs
and cooling those animals at the very beginning, well before summer. Keep in mind, animals
are comfortable at about 40°, lactating dairy cows at about 40°.
With a lot of our farmers the calves are raised in hutches and we’ve had some challenges
just of the hutches getting too warm so making some of those adaptations where we can lift
up the back end of the hutch or we’ve had farms where they cut out the back of the hutch
completely and put a hog panel in there just to increase the airflow. Long term adaptation strategies for animal
production can include continual planning and large-scale investments in animal genetics,
farm buildings and pasture systems. As one example, dairy farms in the Midwest
are moving away from naturally-ventilated barns to mechanically-ventilated barns, which
give animal producers to better control over the environmental conditions inside the barn. When we originally built these barns they
were to be naturally ventilated barns but we didn’t do it right. We built them in
a little bit of a valley instead of on top of a hill where you get the nice breezes.
And they aren’t really tall enough. You need at least a 16 foot sidewall. These are
only 12 so we were having problems with cows in the weather like we had this past week.
They bomb. They just drop 7 lbs. of milk in 2 days cause they just weren’t eating anymore.
They were just fighting the hot weather. And so I went out to South Dakota and looked at
the cross ventilated barns that were going in out there and I said well this is how we
can salvage these barns and continue to use so we made them cross ventilated barns. When
we put the cross ventilation system in there, the soaker lines were controlled by a thermostat
and they just never came on again so we don’t use the soaker lines anymore. We just depend
upon the air movement through the barns to keep the cattle comfortable. I knew what it
cost us to cross ventilate these two barns, I knew what kind of milk we were getting out
of these cows and according to my calculations it was paid for in about a year and a half.
Geothermal cooling systems like this one in western Minnesota are also being considered
by some producers as a viable long term investment for animal cooling.
The real problem, primarily from production were environment or weather is summer, and
we can get very warm temperatures, especially in this part of Minnesota, so providing some
way to provide cooling like a geothermal system is – I think, things that we’ll start
to see being investigated more. In this particular case they decided to invest
in these facilities on a more permanent basis just because of their business model that
they’re using here, which is different than you’re going to see in most production facilities.
This is a 900 sow facility, farrow-to-nursery site.
They’re incorporating with the geo-thermal system, which I think is reasonable in a production
system like this, you have to be integrated properly into the ventilation system, and
the system basically has to be properly sized to provide sufficient cooling but you can
also still properly ventilate the facility. Even though you can’t see them there are
360 wells that are approximately 220 feet deep kind of all around this first facility.
You can see, each one of these little opening or inlets on the side of the building – each
one of those, there are 36 wells that service one of those openings and that acts as the
inlet and thus the way that they temper the incoming air.
So the investment made can be thought of as controlling some of their risk, preventing
some of the catastrophic losses that might occur from real extreme heat conditions which
would not only result in loss of gain or production but might result in mortalities.
Producers are also making long-term investments in animal genetics, developing breeds that
are more adaptable to future climate conditions. The other thing that farmers are managing
to do is to choose breeds more carefully that respond better to drier, hotter conditions.
A recent study of breed allocation in Texas beef cattle showed that heat tolerant breeds
such as Brahman, are growing more prevalent in the warmer parts of Texas.
Another category of farm operation that is vulnerable to climate change is farm logistics. This category covers a wide range of farm
management practices, planning decisions and technologies. In the short term, there are
many strategies to consider to reduce the vulnerability of farm logistics to climate
events. These include: being prepared with backup power for critical functions around
the farm. Forming emergency response plans in case of extreme weather events. Making
sure ventilation and cooling systems are ready early and late in the season. Storing additional
feed for times of drought or flooding Developing plans for transporting animals
in extreme heat Planning for the transporting of supplies
into the farm or exporting off the farm when there is flooding.
Planning ahead for managing animals in extreme cold or blizzard conditions.
Building resiliency into the manure management system. Really your manure storage is something that
you should be managing all the time, you know, do you have field that is appropriate to apply
it, is there a time that you need to apply it in preparation for a period that you can’t
apply? And so no matter how big your storage is, even if you have a one-year storage or
more you really need to be looking all the time for appropriate ways to apply it and
keep managing it. Building resilience into the manure storage
system also means setting aside higher drier ground for manure application or managing
the manure storage so there is room in case of an unexpected large rainfall event.
A producer with a 5000-head beef feedlot in Southwest Minnesota had given up on fighting
the weather and decided to move most of his animals into a barn with slatted floors and
a deep pit for manure storage He determined that the added investment was profitable in
the long run, based on labor costs and animal performance. The final phase of the farm operation affected
by climate change is Farm Exports. Unfortunately farmers do not have much control
over the market prices for their products. Natural economic cycles of supply and demand,
as well as local and national economics, all play a role and all are impacted by climate
and weather. In the short term, practices such as Contracting
for farm products is common. Farmers also participate in insurance programs to protect
against farm losses. These tools may become more important in the future, and they may
evolve as a result of climate and weather changes. Many farms are already more diversified in
products, vertically integrated, or have farms in several geographic locations to hedge against
climate uncertainty. Unfortunately, there is no simple way to determine
the long-term benefits of some adaptation strategies due to the uncertainty of future
weather events and of future climate impacts on the farm. For instance, it’s likely animal scientists
do not yet completely understand the full impact of heat stress on dairy cows, so how
can one possibly quantify potential damage from heat stress and weigh that against potential
benefit of a heat abatement system? Long-term adaptation strategies are also more
challenging, as these investment decisions must take into account economic outlooks that
project 15, -20 or 30 years in the future. Climate projections are uncertain as are population
numbers, consumer demands and global markets. Because of the uncertainty involved in making
these long-term investment decisions, farmers should consult with a team of experts in a
variety of fields that look at all aspects of a farm’s operation. These decisions may
require knowledge of farm finances, management structure, equipment and facilities, as well
as consideration of a farm’s long term goals. Experts can help farmers look at options and
weigh the costs and benefits. I do some of the transition planning and some
of the long term planning but I’ve noticed as we are doing more building plan herd expansion
plans – people are figuring out – all right we need to have the electricity coming into
the farm to run these fans and you know maybe this year we can’t afford fans or sprinklers
but what systems should we be putting in the new barn?
So what needs to be considered when you are looking at capital investment analysis is
what is going to be the impact to yield, and anything to do with returns. It could be price,
it could be the quality of product, and how that does impacts the returns, and also how
that impacts cost. What are the changes to cost structures, does it increase, decrease,
the amount does the price change? And then we are looking at the delta for before and
after effects of climate change for example in this situation. When we are talking about climate change we
are talking about 25-35 years in the future which is very difficult to predict. With other
capital anlysis we might be looking at 5-10- to 15 -20 years. So you have a lot less time
as far as risk involved. And so, that’s the main differences. But as far as the procedures,
the analyses that you do, it is the same. In this video we tried to provide some examples
of adaptation strategies or ways to become more resilient to climate impacts. In addition,
we introduced you to a strategy or framework to help think about the many adaptation options.
There is no one size fits all adaptation plan. Adaptation plans must be based on regional
climate trends and specific farm impacts. . Conducting a climate audit using categories
of farm inputs, animal production, logistics, and farm exports may be helpful. Listing the
likely impacts along with adaptation options is also helpful. Once the list is developed
the costs and benefits can be evaluated and decisions made. Nothing about adaptation planning is easy
but it is important. Thanks for watching!

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  1. i have put out a small fire by beating it with a potato bag. Bigger ones might require us all to don knapsack sprays. Imagine the biggest most treacherous wild fires ever known headed our way on a wide front with the wind behind them and we gave all the threatened farmers knapsack sprays.

    It is a relevant analogy.
    No amount of adaption is going to abate the production of massive amounts of manure, of methane. The production of meat is incredibly inefficient given the amount of water and grains etc needed to produce a small amount of meat. Whatever we do it will be too little and too late to make a meaningful difference. The sheer numbers of animals being bred and processed make the task impossible and the numbers are increasing.

    A radical and co-ordinated departure from "what we have always done" will be our only hope. The production of crops redirected from feeding animals being raised for meat to feeding people will be a massive start and mean that no more rain forests will need to be cleared for animal bound grain growing. The statistics are frightening and overwhelming yet we have some hope if we bravely begin a massive paradigm shift. Whether we like it not, plant based protein gives us a fighting chance without which we will be waving a stick at a looming cyclone.
    .
    A two minute education: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzJN0q-DUVc
    And more:: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tpym5AZ0Ac8
    The eye opener: http://www.cowspiracy.com/
    The book, Meat the Future has a group of scientists examining the question.

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