There has been considerable debate about the potential effect of emissions of “greenhouse gases” on climate change or “global warming” and its impact on economic and ecological systems (see Helms et al., 1996). One sector thought to be sensitive to climate effects is the agricultural sector. The impact of global warming on the US agricultural sector has been studied by a number of previous authors (e.g. Adams et al., 1988; Dudek, 1988; Adams, 1989; Crosson, 1993; Kaiser et al., 1993; Mendelsohn et al., 1994; Rosenzweig and Parry, 1994). However, most of these studies do not allow for the full range of adaptations that farmers could employ in response to climate change, such as changes in the crop/enterprise mix, input mix, and the timing of operations (with the exception of Mendelsohn et al., 1994 which includes, but does not explicitly model adaptation). Those studies that do explicitly incorporate adaptation (e.g. Crosson, 1993; Kaiser et al., 1993) base their estimates on simulated effects rather than actual evidence of adaptation that has occurred. Failure to reflect the full range of adaptation possibilities in estimates of impacts is likely to result in over-estimation of damages from climate change.
In order to assess the full range of adaptation possibilities, a study of the extent of farmer adaptations based on empirical adaptation data was undertaken.