Category Archives: Climate

Warmer weather, new pests threaten vineyards, wine industry

By Katrianna Ray
Capital News Service

Michigan’s wine industry generates $2.1 billion in direct annual economic activity and over 27,930 jobs, according to a report for the Michigan Craft Beverage Council, with a $5.4 billion overall impact.

But climate change is damaging Michigan’s wineries and threatening those jobs, a Suttons Bay winery expert says.

Wine quality is hugely sensitive to changes in the weather, with sudden frosts “lulling the plants into a false sense of security,” according to Peter Laing, the operations manager of Mawby Vineyards and Winery.

However, unexpected frost isn’t the biggest climate-related worry facing wineries in the state.

“The pest pressure is the most notable,” Laing said. “More wet, warm weather means a tougher fungal pressure, and warmer weather extends the range of more pests and heightens activity from native insects.”

In the warmer months, yellowjackets are predators that consume other insects. When the weather gets colder, they switch to eating the sugary grapes.

As the temperature increases and the weather gets wetter, pests like yellowjackets can survive more readily, according to Nikki Rothwell of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center near Traverse City.

They’re hardy and hard to catch, and many wineries are trying combinations of control approaches, called integrated pest management. These include inspecting fields for pests prior to planting and canopy management.

“There’s always insecticides, new fungicides, but we try to use other techniques to combat pests as much as possible,” Laing said. “There’s never a silver bullet — it’s a combination of approaches.”

Climate change is expected to harm the wine industry by reducing crop yields, but increasing crop diversity can help stop some of the potential damage, according to a new international study.

“It’s the winter that really damages our wine grapes,” Rothwell said. “What we rely on, since we’re up here in the 45th parallel, is snow cover. That hasn’t always been reliable.

“We think that it is the implication of climate change, that we don’t have the real reliable snowfall that we used to,” she said.

“We used to have these big, beautiful snowfalls, and all these wine grapes would be tucked in nice and cozy for the winter,” she said. “We’ve lost a lot of snow since it’s getting warmer, and anything above the snowline is susceptible to winter injury.”

Vinifera varieties, like chardonnay and Riesling, make up nearly 65 percent of Michigan’s wine grapes, according to the Vineyard Mapping for Michigan study by the Michigan State University’s  College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

French hybrids struggle to survive in the long term because the grape originated in the warmer regions of Europe, according to the mapping study.

American hybrids, or concord grapes, are much less popular but more winter-hearty.

A hybrid mix of the two is becoming more popular, Rothwell said.
Laing said other tactics to protect and strengthen wine grapes include placing heaters in the vineyard and using sprinklers to keep the temperature above freezing during sudden frosts.

While weather can be predicted, accurately predicting future shifts in climate is difficult.

“It’s a major variable, an unknown,” Laing said. “We are trying to do as much as we can to be ready to handle whatever gets thrown at us.”

“Different pests are not what you’d think of with climate change — you think of weather — but there’s all these other things that go along with that,” he said.

Culinary guide gives bees something to buzz about


Sweat bee on Echinacea purpureaBy ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING – If you were a honeybee in Michigan, hairy mountain mint and common milkweed might be your top menu choices.

If you were a Michigan bumblebee, you’d prefer chowing down on bee balm and shrubby St. John’s wort.

And if you belonged to one of the state’s 465-plus species of wild bees, roundleaf ragwort and gray goldenrod may whet your appetite.

Discovering what bees like to eat has important ramifications for growers and farmers whose apples, cherries, blueberries, squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, pears and other flowering fruits and vegetables depend on bees for pollination, said Logan Rowe, a co-author of a recently published study examining Michigan bees’ feeding preferences. Continue reading Culinary guide gives bees something to buzz about

Changing climate challenges potato growers, chip makers


By Eric Freedman

Capital News Service

Michigan is the nation’s largest grower of potatoes for chips – about one in four bags sold in the U.S. is made from Michigan potatoes.

Can climate change jeopardize the state’s dominance? Maybe, a new study warns.

Continue reading Changing climate challenges potato growers, chip makers

Corn Yield Higher As Temperatures Warm

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By Eric Freedman

Capital News Service

A changing climate has contributed to higher maize yields in Michigan and other Corn Belt states, a new study has found.

It attributes more than one-quarter – 28 percent – of the region’s higher crop yield since 1981 to trends toward overall warmer conditions, cooling of the hottest growing-season temperatures and farmers’ climate-related earlier planting and choice of longer-maturing varieties.

The climate trend accounts for 15 percent of the total yield gain, said lead author Ethan Butler of the University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources.

Maize is “an important food, feed and fuel crop in the Midwest that is both highly productive and strongly influenced by temperature,” according to the study. It includes corn used as grain for processed food, sweeteners and alcohol, animal feed and ethanol but not sweet corn.

“Recognition that historical improvements in climate suggests that sustaining positive yield trends depends more on climate than previously appreciated,” the study said.

Butler and researchers at the University of California Irvine and Harvard examined U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data for 1981 through 2017 for 12 Corn Belt states, including six in the Great Lakes Basin – Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Illinois. The others are Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Butler, a climate ecologist, said it’s the first such study involving the U.S. maize crop

The figures varied among the states, climate and trends in how farmers manage the timing of when their crop is planted and how long it takes to mature.  Combined, they accounted for an average 28-percent increase in yield across the Midwest, according to the study, “Peculiarly Pleasant Weather for U.S. Maize.”

Perhaps the study’s most surprising finding is that the hottest temperatures “have actually cooled” during the past 36 years in the Corn Belt, unlike in other parts of the country, Butler said. That means fewer “killing degree days” in which the crop is exposed to damaging high heat.

Lenawee County is Michigan’s leader in corn production, USDA data shows. Other counties in the top 10 include St. Joseph, Ionia, Allegan and Montcalm.

Overall, the state’s crop is worth more than $1 billion a year, with annual production of about 300 million bushels, according to the Michigan Corn Growers Association.

However, Jim Zook, the association’s executive director, cautioned that the study should be taken “with a grain of salt” because yield has steadily increased since 1936 in the state.

Zook attributes the higher yield primarily to improved technology in the seeds – the kernels –that “protects and enhances” traits that increase yield, as well as to advances in the precision of machinery that farmers use in the field.

And he questioned the study’s assessment that changing temperatures play an important role in higher yields. “We can only plant when ground conditions get over 50 degrees,” he said.

Butler agreed that the majority of the increase is due to non-climatic factors such as better agricultural technology, improved genetic stock and better crop management techniques.

Butler said, “Across the Corn Belt, what farmers have been doing has worked out really well.”

While yield has improved in Michigan, total annual production is down because the state’s farmers have been planting fewer acres since the peak of almost 356 million bushels in 2014, according to the Corn Growers Association website.

The reason is economics, Zook said. When maize prices are low, farmers shift their land to more profitable crops such as wheat, soybeans and dry beans.

The study published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” said continued improvements in yield “are critical to meeting the demands of a growing and more affluent world population.”

But it warned that there’s no guarantee that “beneficial climate trends” will continue and Butler emphasized that the research team’s historical analysis doesn’t speculate about the future. Climate scientists say that a warming climate leads to more frequent extreme weather events.

As the study put it, “Whether historical patterns of adaptation will prove successful under future climate is also unclear. If droughts like those in 1988 and 2012 grow more frequent or intense, they could overwhelm the benefits of planting longer-maturing varieties


Researcher unlocks plant secrets that could better feed the world

Photo: Derrick Turner, MSU Photography Services.
Brad Day in his lab. Photo: Derrick Turner, MSU Photography Services.

The world’s population grows by more than two hundred thousand daily. That’s tens of millions of people annually. To feed them, food production must nearly double by 2050.

That’s a task.

Doing that in the face of climate change and the scarcity of land and water presents one of the world’s greatest challenges. Plants are stressed by drought, disease and non-native competitors. But people need to eat, no matter where they are.

In this episode, Michigan State University researcher Brad Day describes the tools he is creating to unlock the secrets of plants to better feed the world. His research could produce more resilient, stress-tolerant crops that use water and nutrients more efficiently.

Listen to the interview here