How will climate change affect Indiana farms?

For years, NewsChannel 15 meteorologist Greg Shoup has taken his show on the road to gatherings throughout northeast Indiana.

The presentation is generally: “This is how we put together the weather forecast. Now what are your questions?”

But something’s changed: the world’s climate. And Shoup has changed the message he delivers as a guest speaker.

Now he’s telling audiences of farmers that climate change means more than rising sea levels and shrinking glaciers. The rise in average temperatures around the world will change lives and livelihoods here, too, through increasingly variable weather.

He began rolling out his message on climate change in January, at the Fort Wayne Farm Show at Memorial Coliseum.

“It’s not the most fun topic in the world to talk about, and I know it’s politically charged,” Shoup says. “You may not want to, but it’s important that you understand what’s going on with the atmosphere.”

He spoke in a Feb. 22 talk in Bluffton at the annual meeting of the Wells County Soil & Water Conservation District, the Rock Creek Conservancy District, and the Wells County Purdue Extension Service.

“Climate change is real,” he explains to a crowd of more than 100 people, many of whom are farmers or, if they don’t farm, live among the farms in rural Wells County. “Rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns will affect agricultural productivity. It is going to affect your lives.”

Examples are as close as that week’s news. The same day Shoup spoke in Bluffton, a record flood in South Bend crested.

Record-breaking floods soaked Goshen and Plymouth at the same time, and floods in Elkhart and LaPorte narrowly missed setting records.

“The extreme events, like record flooding, will happen more often,” Shoup says.

Climate change is likely to alter weather patterns in a way that will cut corn yields.

Although he speaks to 30-40 groups in a typical year, for now, he’s bringing the climate-change message to audiences likely to include a lot of farmers or other people involved in agribusiness.

“My thinking is that farmers are a much more accepting audience, and their livelihood is in jeopardy right now,” he says later, after the speech. “They've already seen changes in climate that have affected growing seasons, and the plants they're putting in the ground have to be modified in order to keep up with these changes. They understand and are willing to listen to more about science.”

Unusually rough weather is likely to become increasingly common, he told the Bluffton audience.

“Extreme weather events, like hurricanes, are going to happen a lot more frequently than they have in the past. We’re already seeing that (with the recent flooding). You may say, ‘It’s just a flood,’ but it’s a flood in February when we don’t normally have that kind of rain,’” says Shoup, who’s been a meteorologist since 1985.

The foundation of the rapidly evolving theory of climate change is the fact that the world is getting warmer. That’s supported by such a broad pattern of data from across the earth that it’s barely disputed any longer.

“In the last six years, we have not had one month that has been below our 30-year average for normal. Not one month. And in, I think, the last five years, four of those years have been record years for warmth. Our Earth is warming rapidly,” Shoup tells the audience at the 4-H Community Center.

Shoup goes beyond the facts of rising temperature and tells the Bluffton gathering about climate models that predict the general impact of climate change in the region.

“Those models predict there will be more rain in the spring, but less in the summer,” he says. If that holds true, crops will need to be irrigated in areas where farmers have never used irrigation before, he explains.

Shoup says rising temperatures are expected to cut yields of corn and soybeans. Part of the human adaptation to the changing conditions will have to be using more irrigation and developing new plant varieties that will tolerate bad weather better, he says.

The reaction from the Bluffton audience in February was mostly silence instead of open disagreement or enthusiastic support.

One man asked about what a “500-year flood” means. Another asked how people couldn’t have contributed to climate change, given how many of the world’s trees they have cut down.

A line of people quickly formed after Shoup finished his talk. They wanted to talk with him one-on-one, not calling out questions in a meeting hall.

In the end, the greatest encouragement he offers is the nature of northeast Indiana’s farmers themselves. Regional farmers are fit to adapt, and in doing so, they can continue to feed the nation.

“I find that farmers are probably the most optimistic people I’ve ever met,” Shoup says. “You need to keep adapting, and I know the seed companies will keep adapting as well.”

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Read more articles by Bob Caylor.

Bob Caylor is a writer, editor, and photographer who lives in rural Wells County and has done stories from every county in northeast Indiana. He previously worked for The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne and the News-Banner in Bluffton. He is an Indiana University graduate.