Agriculture and Food Security
Climate and weather have a complex relationship with agriculture in Minnesota. Depending on the exact changes, Minnesota may experience significant impacts to food security and health. Climate change is lengthening the growing season and causing increases in heavy rain events, which may increase the amount of food that farmers produce or cause large crop losses. Livestock will benefit from warmer winters, but more extreme heat events in the summer could increase heat-related illnesses and deaths. These are just a couple examples of the effects of climate change. Read through our Agriculture & Food Security Summary (PDF) for a closer look at the details.
Commonly, the concept of food security is defined as including both physical and economic access to food that meets people's dietary needs as well as their food preferences. There are four components to food security:
- Availability: The existence of food in a particular place, at a particular time.
- Access: The ability of a person or group to obtain food.
- Utilization: The ability to use and obtain nourishment from food.
- Stability: The absence of significant fluctuations in the other three components.
To achieve food security, all four components of food security must be achieved and maintained simultaneously. Each component of food security is sensitive to climate change. Potential climate impacts for agriculture and food security include:
- Decreases in food quality, safety, accessibility, and availability.
- Disruptions to the food distribution system.
- Increases in food costs.
- Threats to traditional Native American food sources.
- Increases in risk of injuries or illnesses to farm workers.
Minnesota’s agricultural production is not only important for local food security. It is also important for national and global food security because Minnesota exports many of its agricultural products across the U.S. and the world.
Nationally, Minnesota ranks fifth in the United States for total crop sales. Minnesota is the #1 crop producer in sugar beets, processed sweet corn and green beans; #2 in wild rice; and #3 in dry beans and oats.
Several key impacts of changing climatic conditions on crop production include the following concerns:
- Crop yields: May be impacted by changes in temperature, humidity, cloud cover, and precipitation trends as well as extremes. There may be a positive, negative or no effect on crop yields.
- Crop losses: May increase due to both direct and indirect impact from weeds, insects, and diseases that accompany changes in both average weather trends and extreme weather events.
- Annual variations in crop production: Are expected to increase due to climate change effects on weather patterns and increases in extreme weather events.
- Soil and water quality and quantity: Are expected to decline due to increasing extremes in precipitation.
Minnesota ranks eighth in the United States for total livestock sales. The state is the #1 livestock producer in turkeys, #2 in hogs, and #3 in meat animals.
Climate impacts on animal agriculture are not well defined and vary by species, geographic location, and individual farm vulnerabilities. Some examples of how climate and weather changes impact livestock include:
- Heat and humidity
- Extreme events
- Weather variability
Animal health, growth and reproduction are highly sensitive to temperature. While warmer winters may reduce deaths from exposure to cold temperatures, higher summer temperatures will likely offset this benefit with increased deaths due to heat-stress, lower production of milk from dairy cattle and eggs from poultry, slower weight gain and corresponding longer time to market, and decreased reproduction that can result in smaller herds.
Culturally Important Foods
Native Americans have historically depended on the gathering and preparation of a wide variety of local plant and animal species for subsistence, frequently referred to as traditional or culturally important foods. These foods common to Native Americans in Minnesota include fish, bear, moose, deer, corn, beans, squash, wild rice, and a multitude of herbal plants. A changing climate affects the availability of, access to, and health of these foods. This in turn threatens tribal customs, cultures, and identity.
Health, Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Training Module
The MDH Climate & Health Program presented a Health, Climate Change, Agriculture, & Food Security Training Webinar on Wednesday, September 20, 2017. As part of a seven-part series focused on health and climate change issues in Minnesota, this webinar and training module cover Minnesota’s warming climate and climate impacts to food security, crop production, livestock, and culturally important foods. The training module can be referenced as a general education tool or as a "train the trainer" module for local public health professionals.
Missed the session? View the webinar recording above or download a copy of the 2017 Health, Climate Change, Agriculture, & Food Security Training Slides (PPT).
- MN Food Charter — MN Food Charter: A Roadmap to healthy, affordable, and safe food for all Minnesotans
- Policy Link — Healthy Food Access Portal
- Public Health Institute Center for Climate Change & Health - Climate Action for Healthy People, Healthy Places, Healthy Planet: Food & Agriculture, Climate Change, and Health (PDF)
- United States Department of Agriculture — Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation (PDF) and USDA Climate Hubs