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Cali Owings, Published November 18 2013

Climate change may be good news for ND agriculture

FARGO – Climate change may not be such a bad thing for North Dakota.

While other states report the negative effects of climate change, Adnan Akyuz, a North Dakota State climatologist, said the implications in North Dakota have made the climate more favorable to agriculture.

“The climate is really not the same as it was before, but is it bad?” Akyuz asked during a presentation for the North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts annual meeting.

Akyuz, who runs the North Dakota State Climate Center at North Dakota State University, gave an overview of the impact of climate change based on his research and data for the state.

The average annual temperature in North Dakota is increasing by .27 degrees Fahrenheit per decade – the steepest trend in the lower 48 states, Akyuz said.

A warmer global climate might be bad news for glaciers, but in North Dakota the warming trend has added days to the growing season and increased the number of plant varieties that will survive here.

There are fewer 25-below-zero Fahrenheit days in Fargo than there were a century ago, Akyuz said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture uses those extreme temperatures to divide the nation into “plant hardiness zones” based on which plants are likely to survive in each zone.

Parts of North Dakota were recently upgraded into a warmer sector because there were fewer extremely cold temperatures, Akyuz said, which means there are more plant varieties that can be used here.

In other good news for gardeners and farmers, the length of the growing season in Fargo has increased by 17.5 days over the past century, he said.

The growing season is determined by the first fall frost and the last frost of the spring. The average day of the first frost is later, moving back 9.5 days from Sept. 20 to Oct. 1. The last spring frost is now May 1 on average compared to May 19, eight days earlier than about a century ago.

“We have about 17.5 days extra in which our crops can grow compared to 100 years ago,” he said. “So the climate change is not really all bad for this sector.”

These changes have made it possible for many varieties of corn to grow in North Dakota, which would have been risky a hundred years ago.

Akyuz emphasized that climate change is a normal part of Earth’s natural variability.

“It has changed, it has been changing currently and it will be changing in the future,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599