Impacts on soils and agriculture in the North East.

Soils and Agriculture

Climate change can have a significant impact on soils and the functions that soil performs. In agriculture, climate change may affect crop production because changes in soil, air temperature and rainfall affect the ability of crops to reach maturity and their harvest potential. Increasing damage to the land (land degradation) may occur in the form of soil erosion, desertification, salinisation, or loss of peat soils, further impacting on the capability of soils to support the needs of agriculture.

Climate influences can affect both pasture and cropping land uses. The predicted outcomes of decreased winter and spring rainfall and higher temperatures are a shorter growing season and reduced plant cover over summer. These changes can impact the viability of some forms of agriculture (e.g. climate-sensitive horticultural varieties) and affect the availability of water for crops, stock, domestic, and irrigation purposes. The vulnerability of soils to climate change is strongly linked to the type of soil and its inherent characteristics, but is ultimately determined by land use and management.

Farmers have a long history of changing agricultural practices, with agricultural extension and soil conservation in place in many regions. These changed practices have been driven by the need to maintain and increase productivity, while preventing changes to soil structure, preventing soil carbon loss and erosion. Practices such as minimum-till cropping, stubble retention, and the use of soil cover crops contribute to resilience to climate change. Much of the scientific literature focuses on building the water holding capacity of soil as a key climate adaptation measure, generally through actions that maintain or build soil carbon. Continuing to build landholder capacity and encouraging broader adoption of Sustainable farming practices should therefore be a key strategy in reducing risk.

What We Can Work On

  • Exchange knowledge with landholders about managing the impacts of climate change including impacts on agricultural production and natural resources

  • Land use and management decisions that prevent erosion and changes to soil structure, increase soil water-holding capacity and build soil carbon

  • Resilient farming practices such as minimum-till cropping, stubble retention, changed pastures, and soil cover crops

  • Research into new options within agricultural enterprises, linked to different climate futures