States are Unprepared for Climate Change Impact on Agriculture

Despite increasing extreme weather, state climate adaptation plans often ignore farming

MINNEAPOLIS – State-level climate adaption strategies frequently do not include agriculture, and an alarming number of states don’t have plans at all, a blind spot in preparing for climate change that will be costly to farmers and state governments, finds a new report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

Last year was one of the costliest in terms of weather-related damage in American history. From hurricanes to drought and wildfires, farmers and rural communities were hit hard from coast to coast. IATP’s report, From the Ground Up: The State of the States on Climate Adaptation for Agriculture, studied how states are planning for an increase in severe weather and other weather shifts consistent with climate change. The report found that only 18 states’ climate adaptation plans included agriculture. Of those 18, agriculture-related strategies were often too general and aspirational, disconnected from the policies or resources required to implement them. The report also found some exceptions and truly innovative thinking that all states can learn from.

“The weather events of the last year highlight how states that continue to ignore climate adaptation will end up paying a price in rising costs to state budgets and enormous financial and emotional harm to farming communities,” said report co-author Ben Lilliston. “States have an opportunity to lead on climate policy and that should include deeper rural engagement on adaptation strategies.”

The report found that few states are considering ambitious changes to their agricultural systems to adapt to a changing climate. Locally-focused adaptation strategies with less daunting scopes, such as those focused on soil and water quality, have gained traction in many states. But strategies to increase biodiversity (an important climate adaptation approach) and invest in climate-appropriate agriculture-related infrastructure, have received little consideration.

“In the case of agriculture, local approaches work better than top-down strategies to lower climate risks and adapt farming systems for the future,” said Lilliston. “State agencies know the challenges their farmers and food systems face best and are well-positioned to incorporate agriculture into broader climate adaptation planning.”

This analysis of state climate adaptation plans revealed several key challenges:

  • There is an implementation hurdle after adaptation plans are written
  • Adequate financial resources and institutional support mechanisms are needed
  • States are not ready to include strategies that involve significant altering of agricultural systems to new climate conditions
  • Political resistance to climate action must be overcome
  • States that lack adaptation plans entirely need to begin preparing.

IATP works with partners to increase rural engagement and leadership in responding to climate change—including the development of the Rural Climate Dialogues model with the Jefferson Center.

Read the full report here.

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Based in Minneapolis with offices in Washington, D.C., and Berlin, Germany, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems.