How Idaho Agriculture Might Change With The Climate

Mar 25, 2016

You can’t grow oranges in Idaho because the winters are too cold. To get slightly more technical it’s the wrong cold-hardiness zone for citrus. Scientists have known for some time that those zones will shift with climate change. Now a new study from University of Idaho researchers predicts bigger shifts than previously thought and that could mean big changes in what crops are grown in which parts of the country.

The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, is by U of I climatologist John Abatzoglou and Ph.D. student Lauren Parker. They say climate models are showing more changes to cold-hardiness zones by mid-century, because the temperature increases scientists are predicting won’t be spread evenly over the course of the year.

The periods that will see the most warming Abatzoglou and Parker say, are the coldest days of the year. Those are the days that right now mean, for example, oranges can be grown commercially in Florida but not Louisiana.

That doesn’t mean Idaho will ever grow oranges, but Abatzoglou says Idaho could see significant expansion in wine grape production. And U.S. almond production could move from California to Oregon. Abatzoglou says this is not exactly looking on the bright side of climate change.

“It’s adaptation.  For the agricultural community, doing nothing might be the worst thing that one can do,” he says. “The collective picture does not necessarily look good. You can look at individual attributes of climate change and you can see benefits.”

But he says changing cold-hardiness zones might mean trouble for some current Idaho crops that need a certain amount of cold to thrive. That includes the state’s most iconic product, the potato. 

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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