Projected change in climate thresholds in the Northeastern U.S. Implications for crops, pests, livestock, and farmers

David W. Wolfe, Lewis Ziska, Curt Petzoldt, Abby Seaman, Larry Chase, Katharine Hayhoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Most prior climate change assessments for U.S. agriculture have focused on major world food crops such as wheat and maize. While useful from a national and global perspective, these results are not particularly relevant to the Northeastern U.S. agriculture economy, which is dominated by dairy milk production, and high-value horticultural crops such as apples (Malus domestica), grapes (Vitis vinifera), sweet corn (Zea mays var. rugosa), cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata), and maple syrup (sugar maple, Acer saccharum). We used statistically downscaled climate projections generated by the HadCM3 atmosphere-ocean general circulation model, run with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change future emissions scenarios A1fi (higher) and B1 (lower), to evaluate several climate thresholds of direct relevance to agriculture in the region. A longer (frost-free) growing season could create new opportunities for farmers with enough capital to take risks on new crops (assuming a market for new crops can be developed). However, our results indicate that many crops will have yield losses associated with increased frequency of high temperature stress, inadequate winter chill period for optimum fruiting in spring, increased pressure from marginally over-wintering and/or invasive weeds, insects, or disease, or other factors. Weeds are likely to benefit more than cash crops from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Projections of thermal heat index values for dairy cows indicate a substantial potential negative impact on milk production. At the higher compared to lower emissions scenario, negative climate change effects will occur sooner, and impact a larger geographic area within the region. Farmer adaptations to climate change will not be cost- or risk-free, and the impact on individual farm families and rural communities will depend on commodity produced, available capital, and timely, accurate climate projections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)555-575
Number of pages21
JournalMitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • Carbon dioxide
  • Climate change
  • Crop disease
  • Dairy
  • Farmer adaptation
  • Global warming
  • Heat stress
  • Integrated pest management
  • Invasive insects
  • Irrigation
  • Weeds
  • Winter chill
  • Yield


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