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The Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce sponsored the 29th annual Farm Forum, bringing together about 2000 Upper Midwest farmers and representatives of agribusiness to participate in panel discussions and hear from a variety of experts on national and international agricultural issues. One of the major addresses heard at that forum was by Dr. James D. McQuigg, an authority on world weather patterns and Director of the University of Missouri's Center for Climate and Environmental Assessment.

Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.

I found a speaker this morning. Is an expert on the weather and we are indeed indebted to him because he told me that he we had an ironclad guarantee of a great day today, and he's correct. He is currently director for the center of climatic and environmental assessment which is located in Columbus Columbia, Missouri. He has graduate training and meteorology a master's degree in agricultural economics and a doctor's degree in atmospheric science is presently a consultant to the World Meteorological logical society and its concerned with the economic impact of weather and climate. I'm sure he's going to have a very important address for us this morning and it's my pleasure to introduce to you. Dr. James mcquigg. Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm very pleased to be here. We lived in Minneapolis a couple years back in the early 50s, and I don't recognize anything you've changed this whole town. You sometimes have the feeling that you wonder why you're in a particular place. You put me and kind of a hard place following three excellent speakers with the additional difficulty that if I talk too long, you're all going to miss lunch. So I'll try to keep my remarks within my time bounce. There's always been an interest in whether ever since man started growing crops. The early recorded writings that we have the writings in the Bible the folklore the culture of most places is heavily loaded with references to droughts and floods and famines and Good Times the seven lean years and the Seven that year that Joseph interpreted for the king of Egypt. The interest in the effect of weather on crops, I think has reached a more intense and a much more broader level in recent years. We are now finding people interested for the first time in the impact of weather on crops in parts of the world that they never were concerned about the four. The famous Russian wheat deal of 1972 was brought on partially by a really rotten winter in their winter wheat area where they had severe cold with no snow cover on the ground and the winter wheat was severely damaged and the spring was so cold and late that they didn't have time to put in a second try at Spring wheat and this brought on the need for the grain that the Russians bought. There are two overriding fact is all kinds of rhetoric and you can read all kinds of stories in the press in the newspapers and magazines about the controversy in the meteorological Community about whether we're undergoing climate change or not. And this is an argument that will go on for some time but there are two facts that I think are very clear that we can use as the basis for our thinking on the impact of global weather patterns on Crop Production. One fact is that for various reasons? We had been seeing a a drop in the reserves of grain worldwide for some time prior to the 1972 drop. If your plot out the figures that USDA publishes is in there for an Agricultural service series The Thing They Call beginning stocks, which is the best estimate of the amount of rain on hand as of the first of July each year, they publish these and they publish production figures. So if you know Reserve stocks one year the beginning of of July and you know, how much you produce worldwide and you know what your stocks were the next 1st of July you can do like you do when your balance your checkbook and you say well we consume so much. As a percentage of annual consumption back in the early sixties, the beginning stocks worth something like 30 to 35% There was a gradual decline in this until about 1966-67 when we drew down reserves to send the massive amounts of rain that we did send to eat to India following some Monsoon failures. There were some whether failure is elsewhere in the world that weren't so heavily publicized that year. But if you plot this trend in reserves as a graph with time on the horizontal axis and percentage of consumption on the vertical axis, it was a slow decline with a sharp drip dip following this Monsoon failure in 66 and then I continued slow decrease followed by a very sharp decline following the 1972 season. There are various versions of how much how big these reserves are and you can find several different authors and several different groups quoting different figures, but the central theme of all of these figures is consistent. I believe in that even the most optimistic assessment of reserves What's the magnitude of the amount of rain that we have in Reserve at or near 10% give or take a few percentage points the significance of this to a a man like myself who is primarily interested in the climate and the weather patterns is the following. And I don't believe this following point is very well understood either. The difference worldwide in production between a really great weather year and a really rotten one is about 10% if you want some examples of this or if you got some kids that are studying missing school and you want to give them some homework reading get hold of the foreign agricultural service Publications for 1972 and 1973. 1973 worldwide food. Grain production estimate was about 980 million metric tons 1972, which was a rotten weather year production was a little over 900 the difference being about 19 million metric tons or pretty close to 10% this fact underlies all of the discussions that we might have regarding food conference in Rome or consumer discussions or however and the fact is that for some time to come the size of the reserves that we have worldwide will be largely influenced by what kind of global weather patterns we have this is the one input into the whole problem that we really can't hold a committee meeting about and decide this is how it's going to be We aren't that much further Advanced Beyond early agriculturalists. Who were we think completely at the mercy of the weather. We're not that far away from being largely influenced by climatic patterns as we think we are. The other fact that underlies our discussion of the impact of climate on food and how this affects our policy how this affects what we do as individual businessman or Farmers or as Corporation officials is the following in many areas of the world including the Corn Belt of the us including most of India the Sahel including the Western Prairie provinces of Canada and including a great part of our Western rain producing area the High Plains area of this country. We had a run of favorable weather that went on for about a decade or two depending on which Harrier you're talkin about this run of favorable weather coincided with most of the recent technological and scientific developments that we called technology. This was the time when the things that we did in India is part of our technical assistance raid programs. And our other this is the time when most everything we did the introduce the option of new varieties of seed the Green Revolution the introduction of new machinery and introduction of chemical fertilizers and insecticides in economies. That hadn't used these before the weather cooperated during this decade or two and everything. We did came out like gangbusters and most everybody I think forgot almost completely forgot. The fact that climate is not fixed. It is not a name a number that was written down on a stone tablet and brought down off the mountain to be used forever. We forgot the climate changes and a whole lot of our policies and the programs that we had were based on the implicit assumption that the climate was going to forever be this happy decade or two of crapshooters luck that we had with marvelously favorable weather patterns not easy to get up before I group and say that to already introduced me as an expert you see if I can show you hard numbers. We make a lot of fun of weatherman. If I didn't have a thin skin, I would have got in some easy job like running, General Mills. The fact is that that you can make all the fun you want of the weatherman? But we have beta. This is the one thing that a lot of people dealing with policy questions can't fall back on. We don't have a hundred years of records of modern agriculture. Most corporations don't have a hundred years of consistent records of how they operated things have changed the whole the whole mix of governmental and Industry and agricultural policy and procedures has changed drastically. But in most parts of the world we've got at least a hundred years a very very good records about the climate. The Indian people don't like a lot of the things the British did when they had India as a colony but one of the things the British did do was to put in a first-class Weather Service and on a magnetic tape in my office. I've got more than a hundred years of records from India. And if you take a look at Monsoon failures and come up with some index that you could agree on and the index that we chose was if a if a year got less than 50% of normal rainfall we call that a monsoon failure maybe 50% isn't the right value but you're sure I agree that if you had less than half your normal rainfall here in Minnesota. You probably wouldn't be too happy. And if you do this kind of statistic over a hundred year. You find that early in this century and toward the latter part of the preceding century and on into the 1920s. The likelihood of monsoon failure was something I liked about 1 year and 4 when you're in five and then for some reason that I can't explain there was a period of about two or three decades starting in the late 1920s and running on into the late 1950s and the middle 1960s when the likelihood of monsoon failure in India was down like about 1 year and 20 the rainfall came just like it should everybody said so it must be the 10th day of June it started to rain and they got about what they needed some variations pretty favorable a whole lot of what happened in India was implicitly based on the fact that that this regular Monsoon the good rainfall was going to continue less than six or seven years ago. The Indian government came up with a five-year plan that said we're going to become self-sufficient in food. And you all know that about three out of the last five years. The monsoons have failed in India this last year was one of the worst they've had there were places in India that didn't get even half what they should have had and they were counting on the winter monsoons in the some parts of the country to make up their third crop and these rains are failing. The projection of climate that was used in The Five-Year Plan for India implicitly assumed that the climate was going to stay like it had been the same thing happened in the Sahel. I recently took part in an MIT study for the Sahel. Do you know that there were 2500 studies prior to the one we did most of which were financed by our country and France and Sweden and Germany some by Russia. Most of these studies ignored the climatic Factor all together and just said well if we can get the right kind of government policy and if we can get the right financing and if we can import the right number of Engineers and scientists and show these people how to do a modern agriculture, they'll Bill be just fine and a whole lot of those Central African countries projected their National budgets on the basis that they would be exporters of food. And then the droughts came we're now in the beginning of the eight year of drought. In that area and if you go back and look over the historical records again, the French did a lot of bad things there but they set up an excellent Weather Service. And on this same Magnetic Tape. I've got about a hundred years of Records out of central Africa and there are historical accounts and and other kinds of evidence like three ring evidence that show that these prolonged route to come along quite often. And the 10 or 15 maybe 20 years of good rainfall that followed World War II during which the technology of that area was was beefed up also resulted in increased population of animals and people was based on a perception of climate that was completely unrealistic but could not be sustained and we call it a tragedy when the when the rains quit coming the tragedy was we didn't see it. We didn't use our information and our knowledge of climate to say this is what the climate really is. It's a variable thing. Up till 1974 the perception of climate regarding production of grain here in this Midwest wasn't too much different from what we had for India and Africa, if you look at the grain production figures for the Corn Belt of the u.s. And I highly suggest that you take a serious. Look at these data if your plot these out on a graph from 1900 until present time. Do you find it back in the days when your great-grandfather and grandfather and maybe your father's were farming here on this Midwest corn yields, very long, maybe twenty-five to forty bushels per acre lower during the four years near 4045 maybe even 50 in the good years. And then long about World War II when we started putting in hybrid seed varieties and started pouring on fertilizer and better machinery and smart young guys. Like the man we heard earlier in the program or farming the pain toward increasing yield went up every year. And if you pluck these out the variability around this upward Trend was very very small and I think we convinced ourselves that we had built the all-weather farming system. I've been hearing about the all-weather airplane since I've been in the weather business and we haven't built one yet and we haven't built an all-weather production system either but we almost convinced ourselves that we had because the economist an agronomist send others were seeing. What do you mean gym a quick we ought to take weather and climate into account? Look at look at how little variability there is in our grain production and when we came out with a drought study in the fall of 1973, it was ridiculed and was ignored and then we had the drought of 1974 and I was asked to do a study on probability of freezes. About the middle of last summer and we had the fries. I was asked to give a speech early last year about this time to a Horticultural Society. And as I went into the room one peach drawer from Missouri was sick. I wonder what this place is going to tell us. He said we got froze out last year. I hope he's got some good news this year and I told him told the group the climate is changing. It's getting colder in the Northern Hemisphere and we froze them out the second year in a row, and they haven't invited me back this year. We've got to two fundamental problems that are of a technical and scientific nature in addition to the political and economic problems and the moral and ethical problems that the other speakers are going to talk about the two basic problems have to do with the following. We call Lee increasing yields that we get from applications of Technical and scientific and better management tools recall list the increased due to technology. It's showing up worldwide better some places than others some places hardly at all, but the projections of future production of green by and large have been based on somebody fitting a eyeball line to the trimmed of recent time and just projecting this on into the future. This projection again is based on experience that came out of a very happy favorable run of climate and I think most of the projections of future Productions are over estimates are overly optimistic. We have use the figure 3 to 4% over and if I were redrawing the trend line for FAO, if I were redrawing the trendline in yields for our own USDA, I would take whatever this projection was and I shave it off a bit and I say it isn't this steep. It's a little less three to four percent is a significant amount of difference when you're talkin about grain reserves that are somewhere near 10% And if we are going to be able to produce the food that we need we had better not overestimate our capabilities, but have a very realistic assessment if the prices at the previous speaker talked about as Target prices are based on an over estimate of yields. The target prices will be too low. There's very serious implications of how we estimate this back when we had 25 and 35% reserves hanging around the people called surpluses an error of three or 4% didn't make a darn bit of difference, but three or 4% out of 10 is something we better not ignore. How about the future climate? The climate of the coming decade or two will most likely not be as favorable as the last Deckard a decade or two and this will not only be true for our own area, but will be true worldwide. The. That we call normal is probably the most abnormal. Of weather worldwide that we've got in our recorded history. I wish as meteorologists would quit using this dumb word normal. We are able to make some sort of a projection of future climate on the following basis. If you do have long-term records that go back a hundred or so years the thing to do in assessing your prospects for the future decade or two is to not use the most recent two or three decades, but go back and find the records from Lake in the last century and the first two or three decades in this century. And if I were one of you or if I were President of General Mills, or if I work on some policy board in a corporation, I'd want somebody to do this for me or I'd want to take a few evenings and sort this out for myself. You want to see what kind of climates you're going to have the next decade or so, I can't tell you exactly I'm not that much of a of a fool. but if I were trying to improve my odds and if I were trying to be completely realistic about my prospects, I'd go back and see during the latter part of last century and the first part of this how many years like them 1974 we had how many of these occurred back-to-back how many times did we have a very early freeze following a wet spring how many times did the crop get delayed so that it was starting to form grain during the time of the summer when we know we're going to be dry by which is Late July and August. I'd want to take a look at this. If you can't find these records raise the devil with your extension service people go to your University people write to my friend Joe strube out here at the airport and tell him Jim mcquigg said that you that he'd help you find these records and I'd sit down on some of these cold winter nights when you're not attending meetings, and I'd study the heck out of these just like you read all of the other material that comes to you. And I'd be concerned about the future climate. The little unit that we formed in Columbia is part of a 3 agency effort the Noah group that I work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the NASA group that have launched the Earth's satellite and the USDA have formed a 3 agency Cooperative project to use the Earth's satellite to estimate acreages of crops globally and my group in Columbia are building the weather crop yield models. Where will take the flow of weather information that we get globally and follow each crop Year. We're right now following the developing 1975 crop globally and we will make assessments of the old prospects as the year progresses and the combined information from the satellite and from our unit will funnel through the usual mechanism for releasing the kind of information USDA releases from time. Time about our prospects for production and worldwide prospects. I believe the combining again combining our talents and complaining our facilities. We can sharpen up the estimates that we make and avoid some of the very serious errors that we have made and just assuming the trend is going to continue uninterrupted with favorable climate. Thank you very much time 1 minute over.


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