Photo: Randen L Pederson "Autumn Farm" October 9, 2004 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

The Agriculture Working Group will operate to produce and share adaptation strategies for Wisconsin’s diverse agricultural industries with Wisconsin scientists, policy makers, interest groups and citizens. These strategies will be generated collaboratively through applied research and outreach that addresses the changing needs of agricultural producers, supporting agricultural industries, and the public policy process. The Agriculture Working Group will actively engage and collaborate with researchers, specialists from government and nonprofit entities, and the agricultural industry itself.


The mission of the Agriculture Working Group is to generate science-based adaptation strategies for Wisconsin’s diverse agricultural systems. Besides the farm community, this process will include Wisconsin scientists, policy makers, interest groups and citizens. The adaptation strategies will have to be developed in a relatively short time frame, address a broad range of agricultural subject areas, and change as new information becomes available. These strategies will be produced through applied research and communication of all involved in this collaboration.

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map of the distribution of food product manufacturers in Wisconsin

Figure: University of Wisconsin-Extension


The working group will be responsible for the delivery of the following:

  • A white paper that will provide a vulnerability assessment of climate change for Wisconsin’s agricultural industries. To the extent feasible this will be organized by geographic location and commodity representing different levels of sensitivity to climate changes.
  • A series of agriculture and climate change white papers summarizing expert opinions, research results, and future needs
  • Adaptive management guidelines for Wisconsin agriculture

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Wisconsin’s Agricultural Diversity

It is highly unlikely that one or two core adaptation strategies can be developed for Wisconsin agriculture. This is because of the differential impacts of climate change across the state, and the significant diversity of our agricultural system. Agriculture has been a critical dimension of Wisconsin from early settlement and the logging era, through industrialization, and remains an important economic, social and cultural component of Wisconsin as we enter the Information Age.

map of concentrations of corn that is harvested for grain throughout the counties of Wisconsin

Figure: University of Wisconsin-Extension

This importance is reflected in the fact that there are approximately 78,000 farms in Wisconsin that had cash receipts totaling $9.89 billion in 2008 of which approximately two-thirds came from livestock, dairy, and poultry. Crops (e.g., corn, soybeans) and vegetable and horticultural crops made up much of the remainder. Our agricultural systems occupy a little over 15 million of the approximate 42 million acres in the state although the average size of a farm is only a modest 194 acres.

As would be expected, the Dairy State ranks first nationally in cheese production, and second for milk and butter production. Yet Wisconsin is also second in milk cows, oats, carrots, and sweet corn used in processing. It remains the national leader in processed snap beans, cranberries, corn for silage, mink pelts and milk goats. It is also among the top five states for important agricultural commodities such as potatoes, maple syrup, mint for oil, and cucumbers for pickles. Further indications of the diversity of our agriculture is found in the fact that Wisconsin is 9th in trout (sold 12” or larger), corn for grain, and cabbage for fresh market. Other agricultural products such as cherries, ginseng, Christmas trees, and pumpkins help define rural Wisconsin along with an increasing number of award-winning craft cheeses being produced in the state.

Over half of the farms in Wisconsin are under 100 acres in size, and only eight percent are 500 acres or larger. As would be expected, the majority of these farms (54.8%) have minimal farm sales (less than $9,999), while roughly a little over a quarter (28.1%) are of a commercial size where farm sales were at least $50,000 in 2007. The vast majority (86.8%) of our farms are sole proprietorship (individual or family), but just under half (47.2%) list farming as their primary occupation. In sum, the economic and social composition of Wisconsin agriculture is very diverse creating a need for adaptation strategies that are appropriate to local conditions.

The diversity in the social and economic characteristics of Wisconsin agriculture is matched by the diversity of the biophysical setting where these agricultural processes occur. The south-central part of Wisconsin is in the Central Lowland Province of the Interior Plains. This area is characterized by gently sloping ground moraines, lake plains, outwash plains, drumlin fields, end moraines, flood plains, swamps, and marshes. The soils are derived from glacial drift and are generally very deep, well drained, and loamy. The majority of this area is in cropland with a large proportion in cash grains. Immediately

photo of scenic agricultural landscape in Wisconsin

Photo: Randen L. Pederson "Wisconsin Farm" September 12, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

north of this are the Central Sands. This area is approximately 3,400 square miles in size, and is considered part of the Wisconsin Driftless Section of the Central Lowland Province of the Interior Plains. It is characterized by outwash and glacial lacustrine sand from the more recent Wisconsin Glaciation, and almost half of the area was covered by Glacial Lake Wisconsin. Soils are dominantly Entisols, Alfisols, Histosols, and Spodosols. Much of this area is forestland with both lumber and pulp production with much of the rest used mainly for cash-grain crops, dairy farms, livestock grazing, irrigated vegetables, Christmas trees, or cranberries. To the west of this region is the Wisconsin Driftless Section of the Central Lowland Province of the Interior Plains, or as it is more commonly known, the “Driftless Area” of Wisconsin. The geology is characterized by both sandstone and limestone that creates a complex, but scenic landscape. Most of it is in agriculture with woodlots on the steeper slopes and cropland in the valley floors and ridge tops. The area of Wisconsin bordering on Lake Michigan is considered part of the Eastern Lake Section of the Central Lowland Province of the Interior Plains. The area is characterized by nearly level to rolling till plains, lake plains, and outwash plains mixed with drumlin fields, bedrock-controlled moraines, lake terraces, dunes, swamps, and marshes. Soils are Alfisols, Histosols, and Spodosols throughout much of the area with both cash grains and pasture being dominant land uses.

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Potential Impacts

These tables list potential impacts on Wisconsin agriculture. These lists serve as a starting point for the conversation of how agricultural production could be affected by the changing climate.

Table 1: Positive Impacts on Agriculture

Evidence of Climate Change Impact on Agricultural Production
Longer frost free periods Use of higher yielding genetics
Lower daily maximum temperatures in summer Reduced plant stress
More freeze/thaw cycles in winter Increased soil tilth and water infiltration
More summer precipitation Reduced plant stress
More soil moisture Reduced plant stress
Higher dew point temperatures Reduced moisture stress
Higher intensity of solar output Increased degree days
More diffuse light (increased cloudiness) Reduced plant stress
Higher water use efficiency Higher yields
Warmer spring soil temperatures Use of higher yielding genetics
Reduced risk of late spring or early fall frosts Use of higher yielding genetics
Increased atmospheric CO2 levels Increased photosynthesis and yields

Table 2: Negative Impacts on Agriculture

Evidence of Climate Change Impact on Agricultural Production
More spring precipitation causes water logging of soils Delay planting, reduced yields, compaction, change to lower yielding genetics
Higher humidity promotes disease and fungus Yield loss, increased remediation costs
Higher nighttime temperatures in summer Plant stress & yield loss
More intense rain events at beginning of crop cycle Re-planting and field maintenance costs; loss of soil productivity and soil carbon
More droughts Yield loss; stress on livestock; increase in irrigation costs; increased costs to bring feed and water to livestock
More floods Re-planting costs, loss of soil productivity and soil carbon; damage to transportation infrastructure may reduce delivery to milk processing plants
More over-wintering of pests due to warmer winter low temperature Yield loss, increased remediation costs
More vigorous weed growth due to temperature, precipitation and CO2 changes Yield loss, increased remediation costs
Summer time heat stress on livestock Productivity loss, increase in miscarriages, may restrict cows on pasture
Temperature changes increase disease among pollinators Losses to cropping (forage, fruits, vegetables) systems
Increased taxes or regulations on energy-dependent inputs to agriculture (e.g., nitrogen fertilizer) Profitability impacts on producers; loss of small-scale farm supply dealers
New diseases or the re-emergence of diseases that had been eradicated or under control Enlarged spread pattern, diffusion range, and amplification of animal diseases

Table 3: Indirect Impacts on Agriculture

Situational Change Impact on Wisconsin Agriculture
Regulation involving greenhouse gas emissions Potential increased costs to meet new regulations; opportunities to participate in new carbon markets and increase profits
Litigation from damages due to extreme events or management of carbon markets Legal costs may increase
New weed and pest species moving into Wisconsin Control strategies will have to be developed; increased pest management costs as well as crop losses
Vigorous weed growth results in increased herbicide use Increase in resistance or reduction in time to development of resistance; regulatory compliance costs or litigation over off-site damages from pesticides
Possibility of increased inter-annual variability of weather patterns Increased risk in crop rotation, genetic selection, and marketing decisions
Increased global demand for food production due to climate and demographic changes New markets; increase in intensification of production; increase in absentee ownership
Increased period for forage production Decreased need to large forage storage across winter for livestock operations

Tables 1-3 were developed by Dan Looker of Successful Farming magazine.

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concentrations of cafo and dairy farms in Wisconsin

Figure: University of Wisconsin-Extension

Each of the different biophysical and ecological regions of Wisconsin produces the commodities and products listed in the Wisconsin’s Agricultural Diversity section, but often with different techniques and management strategies. Wisconsin farmers have adjusted production strategies to the often-unique agroecological areas of the state where they farm.  This long-standing experience with adaptation will assist in the response to climate change, but will also challenge WICCI in that uniform, statewide strategies are unlikely.

The impacts of climate change on Wisconsin agriculture will occur through both direct and indirect processes.  Direct impacts will be those that occur, in general, because of changes in temperature and precipitation. The qualification is added because when those changes manifest themselves within agricultural cycles will determine the nature of the impact.

The Agriculture Working Group will analyze the products from the Climate Working Group to understand the how climate change is going to manifest itself around the state. With that information we must begin to determine

  1. which parts of the state and
  2. which parts of the agriculture industry are most vulnerable to which types of climate change

In other words, adaptation strategies in the Kickapoo River Valley will be different from those in the farming areas outside of Janesville.

To undertake these site-specific assessments and design appropriate adaptation strategies, the Agriculture Working Group must foster the participatory involvement with critical stakeholders:

  • Producers
  • Representatives from the private sector
  • Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protections (DATCP)
  • University scientists
  • Agriculture extension agents
  • Soil and Water Conservation organizations

Due to the complex nature of Wisconsin’s agriculture, collaborations with these diverse groups will be the focus of the Agriculture Working Group’s strategy to help Wisconsin’s farmers adapt to a changing climate.

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Please e-mail Chris Kucharik for any questions or comments related to how climate change will affect Wisconsin agriculture.