Warnings about the catastrophic effects of climate change are everywhere these days. It’s hard to escape predictions about global warming with its apocalyptic images of melting ice caps, rising water levels, and violent storms.

Meanwhile, in your ag newsfeed,  you’re bound to encounter news of growing water shortages and their consequences for farming.

As you consider these crises of environment and irrigation, you might wonder how these two topics are related. How much will climate change will impact farmers’ water supply? Quite a lot, as it turns out. And knowing what to expect as global warming takes its course can help you forecast for an increasingly volatile future.

Environmental change will usher in four major hydrological developments, all of which have the potential to affect farmers. Look for these trends to accelerate over the next decade–and adjust your planning accordingly.

  1. Weather Variability

As climate change progresses, expect the unexpected. You’ll see bigger swings between dry and wet seasons. Storm systems will become more devastating. Weather systems will get more volatile, especially in tropical zones.

That means water supply will become increasingly unpredictable. This may make previously fertile regions less productive, and traditionally underperforming areas more arable. Get ready for significant disruptions in water access and availability in the near future.

  1. Flooding

    Remember those disturbing pictures of polar bears floating on shrinking chunks of ice as the polar caps melt?

    Well, that melted water contributes to rising sea levels. And those oceans will start submerging low-lying landmass. (Goodbye, Miami. We enjoyed you before you started sinking).

    It also means saltwater will start engulfing freshwater aquifers inland. Needless to say, this is an ominous development for agriculture, and coastal farmers in particular. It’s already affecting crops from the shores of North Carolina to California.

  2. Desertification

    Wait, didn’t we just say there was going to be more water? How can desert climates be growing in Waterworld?

    Welcome to the paradoxical reality of climate change.

    Remember, increasing volatility is the defining characteristic of global warming. What was wet will get wetter; what was dry will get dryer. These twinned developments won’t follow a predictable pattern. Climatic effects will vary wildly from place to place.

    That means that alongside land reclaimed by the ocean and saltwater penetration of freshwater, you’ll also see the encroachment of the desert on nearby farmland.

    This is a serious development not just for farmers, but for global food security generally. “The top 20 cm of soil is all that stands between us and extinction,” warned a UN official. When water sources dry up, crop production tapers off. And that means people could go hungry.

  3. Contamination

    With saltwater penetration and violent storm systems sweeping the globe, you’ll see greater spread of contaminants. Warmer weather will nurture algae formation and parasites. That could have profound effects on agriculture as well as drinking water.

    So there you have it. Climate change will create greater volatility and unpredictability in water supply. Some will experience flooding, others drought, and still others contamination in water supply. The future contains great hydrological uncertainty. Plan accordingly.