According to Harvard University researchers, grasslands in North America will be facing higher summer temperatures and widespread drought by the end of the century. In some places that’s already happening, as we saw last summer in California, Oregon, and Washington, all of which saw droughts and record wildfires. As you could expect, those droughts and temperatures will have negative impacts on vegetation, including crops.
But, according to those same researchers, these negative affects will be offset by an earlier growing season. Climate change has led to hotter, drier summers already, but it’s also led to warmer winters and “earlier” spring growth. Plants flourish in the spring, traditionally, but as winter bleeds into spring earlier and easier in some part of the continent, and will continue to do so over time, plants begin their growth cycles earlier in the year.
This is, of course, good news, but the whole thing is a double-edged sword. The earlier growing season is good, but it’s only happening because of climate change, so it’s less of a boon and more of a necessary adaptation. The problem is that it challenges everything we’ve pretty much ever known about vegetation management. While overall productivity in these grassland regions won’t be much effected by these changes, in most regions anyway, it will require the development of new management techniques and theory in order to make use of these new developments. Crops will likely have to be planted earlier and tended more carefully in order to take advantage of these new aspects.
Figuring out how to adapt to these new growing conditions is the logical next step for research focused on this issue. We need to better understand the changes, and be able to predict more changes, in order to make use of them. Those new models will have to be flexible from the start as well, because as climate change continues, growth periods will shit more.