The changing climate is affecting trends in weather across the nation. As temperatures in the Southeast rise, farmers will have to adjust to longer growing seasons, more diseases and pests and to an increase in extreme weather conditions, says a University of Georgia expert.

The long-term trend has been for temperatures to go down, but since the 1960s temperatures have been warming, consistent with patterns in other parts of the U.S. and the world, said Pam Knox, a climate specialist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Changing weather trends will create challenges and opportunities for Georgia farmers, she said. The challenges will include more heat stress on outdoor workers, more disease and pest pressure on crops, more severe weather and increased potential for drought. The opportunities will include the ability to grow a larger variety of crops in a longer growing season with good access to water - compared to other parts of the U. S.

Knox studies how the climate has changed over the past 150 years and the impacts of weather and drought on Georgia farmers and their crops. She, like other climatologists, uses computer models to predict future weather trends.

“There are more than 80 models and they all show a predicted temperature increase of 5 to 10 degrees F in the U.S. and the Southeast over the next 100 years,” she said. “Not a single model predicts it’s going to be cooler over the long haul.”

Warmer temperatures may improve some crops and allow growers to plant different varieties, but it would also increase evaporation and reduce soil moisture.

“Longer dry spells and warmer temperatures will cause plants to wilt quicker, increase the odds for a drought and reduce the average stream flow,” Knox said.

“We could see more forest fires and have more ice storms instead of snowstorms,” she said.

Foresters could lose more trees to forest fires or have increased damage due to ice storms. Pine trees will snap off more easily under the weight of heavy ice. This happened to trees across the state as a result of the ice storm that hit eastern Georgia in February.

For more information about the climate in Georgia, see the UGA website Georgia Climate.