Perspective: Fight Midwest Flooding With Sustainable Practices And Policies

Jul 31, 2019

In my 34 years working as a climatologist in Illinois, I have seen a lot -- from the Great Floods of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in 1993 and 2013 to the crippling droughts of 1988 and 2012.

But I never saw a growing season like this one. First, we had the wettest January through June on record for Illinois with precipitation that was 9.3 inches above normal. This resulted in substantial delays in both corn and soybean planting, as well as leading to many acres not getting planted at all. Other states in the Midwest experienced similar conditions. In addition, widespread flooding has limited barge and rail traffic which are critical to agriculture.

These conditions were followed by a hotter and in some places, drier July across Illinois causing further stress to under-developed root systems.

With warmer and wetter conditions expected after this week, and an already changing climate that is expected to produce wetter winters and springs and hotter summers in the coming years, the heavy burden we are placing on farmers may seem insurmountable.

The good news is many farmers are already making a switch to sustainable practices such as buffer strips, cover crops and constructed wetlands. These practices reduce run off and produce healthier soil, and higher yields -- all while removing more carbon from the air. As a member of the science advisory committee of the Nature Conservancy in Illinois, I know that we are working with our partners on these best practices.

But shifting agricultural practices to adjust to the realities of a changing climate will not be enough to avoid increasing risks of flooding in the future. What we need to move forward are broader policies that address climate change and curb rising emissions -- and we can’t wait.

I'm Jim Angel and that's my perspective.