What farmer hasn’t wished for a weather-predicting crystal ball? Now, growers in the Yakima Valley have the next best thing: a high-tech climate model that may benefit the entire West.
The climate model is adapted
from a West-wide model developed by the Department of Energy, which
predicts that, over the next 50 years, Western snowpack will
decline by up to 70 percent (see story, page 8). Michael J. Scott,
a natural resources economist at the Pacific Northwest National
Laboratory in Richland, Wash., refined the original model to look
at the impacts of climate change on farming in the Yakima Valley.
He estimates that warmer, drier weather could cause crop yields to
drop by nearly a quarter over the next several decades.
Scott hopes that decision-makers throughout the West will pay
attention to regional and local climate models, especially since
scientists predict that global warming will increase the frequency
of severe drought years. In that case, more than just agriculture
will be at risk.
Scott says his model will help farmers
adapt to dry times by planting drought-tolerant crops in advance,
or changing harvest dates. But he still has some hurdles to jump:
Roza Irrigation District Director Tom Monroe says he only knows of
three farmers who are aware of the model. "I’m not sure how
many (of these) folks are willing to accept or agree to global
warming itself," he says.