Keeping Things in Perspective: Weather vs. Climate in Operational Decision Making

As I write this, we are on the heels of catastrophic flooding in Houston due to Hurricane Harvey, and another major storm, Hurricane Irma, is churning its way through Florida and raising fears throughout the southeastern states.

The floodwaters have not fully receded and already we are hearing debate among scientists regarding how (if at all) Harvey’s intensity was influenced by climate based on a hypothesis (also debated) that extreme weather events become more frequent in a warmer world. The rhetoric reminds me of how often I see stories of the latest scientific studies projecting how climate change will impact our global agricultural production, and the message is often negative. However, these projections are fraught with uncertainty, based on atmospheric models that have yet to prove skillful in retrospectively simulating climate. My intent in this column is not to inflame the climate change debate, but simply to put a few things in perspective for everyone involved in agricultural production.

First, let’s review the difference between weather and climate, as I often hear these terms used interchangeably. Weather is defined as the actual individual values and events that occur or are expected to occur. Climate refers to typical conditions as represented through statistical analysis (averages, variability, extremes) of aggregated weather conditions spanning multiple years or decades (typically 30 years, but more or less can be used). Thus, climate is a signal buried in the noise of the actual weather.

An analogy might be the stock market, where daily individual stock prices are like the weather, and the long-term market indices are like the climate. Both the climate and market indices vary with time, sometimes with short-term trends and sometimes long-term identifiable trends, depending on the sample size and period of record. Attributing one event to a changing climate is like attributing the performance of one random company’s stock performance yesterday using the average Dow Jones Industrial Index over the last 10 years. But, it is the actual stock price that impacts the shareholders of that company, not the market indices, and that stock price most likely is driven by actions within or around the company, completely unrelated to the market index. On a daily basis, it is in the noise where we make decisions that have the highest impact on our livelihoods.

Regardless of where one falls in the debate, even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes that we cannot readily attribute any single weather event such as a hurricane to climate change. We have observed several major hurricanes in the relatively short recorded history of hurricane strikes in the U.S. (about 170 years of data, within which only the last 40 years or so have had the benefit of satellite imagery). In fact, on the all-time list of U.S. land-falling hurricanes, Harvey ranked 14th in overall intensity. In 1900, when atmospheric CO2 concentrations were still within the natural range, a hurricane considered by many to be the worst ever to hit the U.S. struck Galveston, destroying much of the city and killing somewhere between 9,000 and 12,000 people. And while Harvey did set a record for rainfall at 51 inches, two other storms, Amelia (1978) and Claudette (1979) dropped 48 and 45 inches, respectively, on the state of Texas.

This is not the first major flood event for that region nor will it be the last. Whether or not such a storm would statistically be expected to occur every 1,000, 500, or 100 years, there is still a chance that one will occur in any given year. The key is to be weather-resilient. That resiliency by and large is not affected by climate change in a practical sense. As a practical example, if I tell you with full certainty that your likelihood of a destructive hail event occurring on your field for the growing season has increased from 5% to 7%, how would your operations change? I suspect not one bit.

For the sake of argument, even if the climate projections are correct, most of the impact studies assume a steady state in technology, including those done around agriculture. However, what we know is that agtech, whether it be in farming practices, equipment advances, crop protection and nutrients, or plant genetics, has advanced rapidly and continues to do so at a much greater pace than our climate is changing, and none of those are considered in the studies I have seen outside of a passing comment. We have a remarkable ability to adapt to change, and our ability to protect our crops and increase yields and efficiency will likely more than compensate for any long-term regional changes for the vast majority of producers worldwide.

While we should be concerned about our air and water quality and make good decisions about our practices for the benefit of society, I believe the largest opportunity for more efficient farming lie in the ability to leverage our ever-increasing accuracy of near-term weather forecasting, where confidence is much higher in the outcomes and real, high-impact decisions can be made.

Good weather forecasts with enough lead time to prepare are critical. “Betting the farm” on long-range weather forecasts or climate change outlooks are very high-risk with little real-world practical application because of the scientific limitations. But we can make good decisions to plant optimally, improve our water management, apply chemicals responsibly, and harvest efficiently through quality weather forecast services combined with connected farm technology.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Decision Support Software Stories
Harvest
Data ManagementAre You Ready for This Year’s Digital Harvest?
August 15, 2018
As the days in the Northern Hemisphere slowly get shorter, they are getting longer in the Southern Hemisphere and everywhere Read More
AmericasValley Agronomics: A Service-First Precision Partner
July 30, 2018
“Valley Agronomics, out in the Pacific Northwest … there’s something about those guys, they just get it …” Those words, Read More
AmericasNutrien Ag Solutions Brand, New Digital Platform Launched
July 9, 2018
Nutrien (formerly Crop Production Services) has officially rebranded its retail business to Nutrien Ag Solutions, aligning the company’s retail operations Read More
Farmer with iPad
Decision Support SoftwareAgrian Enhances Field Scouting App
June 18, 2018
Agrian has added a new feature to its robust field scouting app – a pest trap counting solution. The new Read More
Trending Articles
Geosys
Industry NewsUrtheCast to Acquire Geosys from Land O’Lakes in $20 Million Deal
August 15, 2018
UrtheCast Corp. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced they have entered a binding term sheet for the purchase of Geosys Read More
1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Simplot’s Allan Fetters
PrecisionAg InstituteOne on One With Simplot’s Allan Fetters
August 8, 2018
Allan Fetters of PrecisionAg Institute partner Simplot Grower Solutions talks about techology trends and key learnings from the recent InfoAg Conference in this exclusive interview with PrecisionAg's Paul Schrimpf. Read More
PrecisionAg InstitutePrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper Library
August 1, 2018
Welcome to the PrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper library! Here you will find free whitepapers and case studies from the PrecisionAg Institute Partners Read More
AmericasIntegrity Ag Group: People Over Precision
July 30, 2018
It’s not every day that this reporter walks into the office of a precision ag dealer, sits across from the Read More
farmer-tractor-tablet
Systems ManagementWhat is Digital Farming — Really?
July 24, 2018
The agricultural community has spent several years synthesizing an operational description for digital farming. In several cases, there have also Read More
Data ManagementInfoAg News: Farmobile Launches DataEngine, Streamlines DataStore Buyer Process
July 17, 2018
Busy times these days out in Leawood, KS, for ag data startup Farmobile, as they continue to – pardon the Read More
Latest News
John Deere Operations Center
Data ManagementMaximize the John Deere Operations Center for Your Cust…
August 16, 2018
Today’s farming operation looks different than it did 20, 10, even just a few years ago. Technology continues to shape Read More
Service ProvidersNew Ag Retail Survey Identifies Key Business Challenges
August 16, 2018
From commodity prices and competition for business to future-proofing the operation, ag retailers shared their challenges and concerns in a recent survey conducted by Proagrica. Read More
WinField’s Joel Wipperfurth On Empowering Data-Driven Decisions
InfoAg ConferenceOne on One with Joel Wipperfurth, Winfield United
August 15, 2018
Winfield United's Joel Wipperfurth discusses ag technology trends and topics during last month’s InfoAg Conference. Read More
Geosys
Industry NewsUrtheCast to Acquire Geosys from Land O’Lakes in …
August 15, 2018
UrtheCast Corp. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced they have entered a binding term sheet for the purchase of Geosys Read More
Harvest
Data ManagementAre You Ready for This Year’s Digital Harvest?
August 15, 2018
As the days in the Northern Hemisphere slowly get shorter, they are getting longer in the Southern Hemisphere and everywhere Read More
Wheelman-Pro
Industry NewsAgJunction Expands Automatic Steering Market to Smaller…
August 14, 2018
AgJunction, the autosteering company, has introduced Wheelman, a new way for farmers to automatically and accurately steer farm equipment at Read More
Drip-irrigation
Precision IrrigationFertigation as a Precision Agriculture Tool
August 14, 2018
Fertigation is a fertilizer application method in which dissolved fertilizers are delivered to the crop through the irrigation system. This Read More
Events5 Reasons You Should Attend Growing Innovations
August 13, 2018
The specialty crop market is wracked by unprecedented change: labor scarcity, water shortages, pressing demands for increased quality and transparency Read More
Data Science tablet
Data ManagementMicrosoft, Agile Networks Detail Central Ohio Broadband…
August 9, 2018
Agile Networks, a leading provider of telecommunications solutions, and Microsoft Corp. has announced a new agreement to bring broadband internet Read More
AmericasIvy Tech Opens Center of Excellence to Train Tomorrow&#…
August 9, 2018
Students interested in careers in precision agriculture equipment technology or diesel technology now have the opportunity to pursue certificates, technical Read More
1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Simplot’s Allan Fetters
PrecisionAg InstituteOne on One With Simplot’s Allan Fetters
August 8, 2018
Allan Fetters of PrecisionAg Institute partner Simplot Grower Solutions talks about techology trends and key learnings from the recent InfoAg Conference in this exclusive interview with PrecisionAg's Paul Schrimpf. Read More
Corn field sunset
Industry NewsTrimble RTX Correction Technology Now Delivers Two Cent…
August 7, 2018
Trimble has announced that its Trimble RTX GNSS corrections technology can now achieve horizontal accuracies of better than two centimeters. Read More
Sentera-Gimbaled-Quad-Sensor
Sensors/IoTSentera Gimbaled Quad Sensor Optimizes Crop Health Data…
August 7, 2018
Sentera’s Quad sensor is now available in an integrated gimbal-stabilized package for DJI Inspire and Matrice drones. Featuring four fully-customizable Read More
BigDataSmall2
Data ManagementPrecision Agriculture: A Smaller Approach to Big Data
August 7, 2018
Big data is one of the most buzzed-about concepts in our industry. Rarely do we read a newsletter, attend a Read More
Grower-Retailer
Industry NewsAgworld, K-coe Isom Form Strategic Partnership
August 6, 2018
Agworld and K-coe Isom have announced a strategic partnership that will see them integrating business advisory and technology to deliver Read More
Industry NewsAgEagle Acquires Agribotix
August 6, 2018
AgEagle Aerial Systems has signed an agreement to acquire substantially all of the assets of Agribotix, a Boulder, CO-based drone-enabled Read More
Digital-Farming
Systems ManagementImplementing Digital Farming’s Five Major Needs
August 2, 2018
Building a house starts with a plan and then a foundation; it does not start with doors and windows. From Read More
PrecisionAg InstitutePrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper Library
August 1, 2018
Welcome to the PrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper library! Here you will find free whitepapers and case studies from the PrecisionAg Institute Partners Read More