By Kay Henderson
DES MOINES (Reuters) - A group of scientists in the top U.S. grain-growing state of Iowa said on Monday that this year's harsh drought was a sign of things to come and should spur more action to prepare for the challenges of a warming climate.
"Weather varies too much and has too many drivers to attribute any particular event to a single cause like climate change, but there is a clear pattern of crop loss and property damage from increasingly frequent events such as flooding, drought and dangerous storms," said Dave Courard-Hauri, chairman of Drake University's Environmental Science and Policy Program, at a press briefing.
"We don't face a choice between our economy and the planet. The choice is between addressing the causes and effects of climate change or spending ever more money cleaning up from events like we've seen in the past several years," he said.
The top grower of U.S. corn and soybeans, the two biggest cash grain crops, Iowa is also a big hog and cattle producer. Iowa and Illinois together produce about one-third of the nation's corn and soybeans for food, feed and fuels.
The 2012 drought, the most intense in more than a half century, cut Iowa's corn output by 19 percent and soybeans by 14 percent from last year, according to government crop estimates.
Livestock and dairy producers, with less insurance protection, are being hit hardest as feed and forage prices soar, causing farmers to cull herds or go out of business.
Christopher Anderson, the assistant director of Iowa State University's climate science program, says there is "clear, statistical evidence" that extreme high temperatures are happening more often than extreme low temperatures in Iowa.
"Since 1981, the likelihood of severely wet springs has more than doubled. What was once a one-in-10-year wet spring is now occurring two to three times in every 10 years," he said. "Yet 2012 reminds us that dry summers can still happen. The 2012 July and August statewide rainfall was the lowest since 1976."
Jerald Schnoor, co-director of the University of Iowa's Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, said state policymakers should use 2012 climate data to make new decisions, like doubling wind energy production and using methane from livestock manure and city sewage treatment plants.
"We have confidence in recent findings that climate change is real and having an impact on the Iowa economy and on our natural resources," Schnoor said.
The group issued an "Iowa Climate Statement" signed by 138 scientists at 27 Iowa colleges and universities.
"The climate likely will continue to warm due to increasing global emissions and accumulation of greenhouse gases," the statement said. "Iowa should lead innovation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improve resilience in agriculture and communities, and move towards greater energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy."
(Editing By Peter Bohan and Gunna Dickson)