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Climate change forces farmers to pick low yields or instability

The Roza Irrigation District within the Yakima River Basin in Washington state. Climate change will leave some farmers with a difficult conundrum, according to a new study by researchers from Cornell and Washington State University: either risk more revenue volatility or live with a more predictable decrease in crop yields.

As water shortages and higher temperatures drive down crop yields in regions that depend heavily on seasonal snow, the choice to use more drought-tolerant crop varieties comes at a cost, according to model projections detailed in the paper “Water Rights Shape Crop Yield and Revenue Volatility Tradeoff for Adaptation in Snow Dependent Systems,” published July 10 in Nature Communications. Grapes grow in the Roza Irrigation District. The study examined the Yakima River Basin in Washington, where a complex combination of snow, reservoirs and water rights controls the availability of irrigation water. That water dictates the success of some of the largest producers of wheat, corn, potatoes, pears, cherries, grapes, apples and hops in the U.S. With proper snowfall and melt, total agricultural productivity in the basin can reach more than $4 billion a year.

The research team sought to quantify climate change’s direct and indirect effects on irrigated agriculture in the […]

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