From the record drought that covered much of the nation last year to Superstorm Sandy that caused an estimated $50 billion or more in damage in the Northeast and Midwest, extreme weather events plagued growers nationwide throughout 2012 — and experts anticipate more in the future. As a result, growers have to find ways to adapt agriculture to such conditions, an Ohio State University Extension expert says.

Examples of how to do so will be discussed on Feb. 6. by OSU Extension and Ohio State University experts in agriculture, climatology and environmental economics during a workshop hosted by the Soil and Water Conservation Society.

The event is designed to help growers devise ways to adapt agriculture to extreme weather conditions to try to minimize the financial impact from such events, said Jim Hoorman, an OSU Extension educator and an assistant professor studying cover crops and water quality issues.

The issue of how growers can cope with extreme weather in agriculture is particularly significant considering the record extreme weather events that occurred in 2012, he said.

Consider these occurrences:

  • Winter 2012 was the warmest winter experienced nationwide since 2000 and the fourth-warmest winter on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This was caused because the jet stream, which divides the cold air to the north from the warm air to the south, settled at a much higher latitude this year, the federal agency said.
  • Record warm temperatures in March 2012 recorded several days at 80 degrees or higher.
  • Ohioans suffered through multiple days of record-setting temperatures of over 100 degrees in summer 2012, with scant rainfall that resulted in parched crops. In fact, with an average temperature of 77.6 degrees, July was the hottest month ever recorded nationwide, breaking a record set during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
  • The drought of 2012 was the worst drought on record in Ohio, and in much of the U.S.
  • The high winds and heavy rains from the remnants of Superstorm Sandy impacted large swaths of Ohio in November 2012.

“We’re expecting to have more extreme weather events in the future, including more precipitation and more extreme temperatures,” Hoorman said. “So one way growers can protect their crops from the increasing threats posed by extreme weather is to protect the soil through instituting cover crops which protect soil with live plants and helps increase in soil carbon and soil organic matter.

“One of the best ways to keep carbon in the soil is to increase roots in the soil, as 65 to 70 percent of soil carbon comes from roots. So using cover crops such as oilseed radish, legumes like winter peas and cereal rye keep more carbon stored in the soil.”

Increased soil carbon might help agriculture survive extreme weather events by increasing soil's water-holding capacity and protecting the soil from extreme water runoff, he said.

The workshops will feature presentations by Jeff Rogers, state climatologist and a professor in Ohio State's Department of Geography; Lonnie Thompson, Distinguished University Professor in the School of Earth Sciences and senior research scientist with the Byrd Polar Research Center; and Brent Sohngen, professor of environmental economics, all from Ohio State. Other presenters include OSU Extension experts Bruce Clevenger, Alan Sundermeier, Rafiq Islam and Hoorman.

Topics will include: Ohio Weather and Climate Trends; Farmer Attitudes and Survey Data on Weather; Extreme Weather Changes related to Glaciers, Agriculture and People; 21st Century Agriculture; the Economics of Adapting to Extreme Weather; and Extreme Weather Effects on Agricultural Production.

The event will be held from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, 8995 E. Main St. in Reynoldsburg. Registration is $25 by Jan. 25 for members of the Soil and Water Conservation Society and $35 for non-members and late registrants. Students are $10. Registration includes refreshments and lunch.

For more information on the meeting, workshops or to register, contact John Armentano at 937-483-8581. Registration can be paid by check payable to All Ohio Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society and can be mailed to Armentano at 3635 Dayspring Drive, Hilliard, 43026.