Almost 40 tornadoes hit the Midwest and Southeast in one day in December 2015, the largest such outbreak in observed U.S. weather history. A derecho with hurricane-strength winds traveled almost 800 miles through the Corn Belt in August 2020. Both caused massive, unexpected damage to life and property.

Following the derecho, Nationwide launched BinStrongSM to help farm and agribusiness owners and operators understand the benefits of building stronger bins rated to withstand higher wind speeds.

Such weather events range in type and severity depending on the region but are all fueled by changing global climate trends. They have one thing in common: They’re happening a lot more often. It’s a call to make sure you have the right farm emergency action plan and insurance policies in place to mitigate and protect yourself and your farm, ranch or agribusiness from their damage.

Difference between weather and climate

Climate refers to the overall trends in specific weather that elapse over time, according to Justin Glisan, Iowa State Climatologist with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. On November 9, 2022, he led a webinar sponsored by Nationwide on current weather and climate trends as they relate to agriculture.

“Weather is the short-term variation in the atmosphere like wind, temperature and precipitation,” he said. “Climate accounts for long-term trends like the amount of water vapor that can be held in the atmosphere and how that affects weather.”

Layer on things like increasing observed carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and variables like atmospheric water vapor levels contribute to the rising frequency of severe events like heavy rains that can damage agricultural land through flooding and soil erosion. “With rising water vapor in the atmosphere, we've seen an increase in the number of higher-intensity rain events across the Midwest,” Gilsan said.

Severe weather spawns a range of risks

Meanwhile 1,700 miles to the west, global climate trends favor the opposite outcome where Dr. Amrith Gunasekara lives and works. The Director of Science and Research for California Farm Bureau® said his region is much more likely to experience drought and resulting crop failures, grass fires and wildfires.

“We broke some records with drought in 2022, and there are more to come,” Dr. Gunasekara said during the November webinar. “Wildfires are related to climate change and the weather variables of drought, precipitation and increased temperatures.”

How does volatile weather and climate change affect agriculture? For one, they create a range of risks. Smoke from California wildfires, for example, adversely affects output and quality for crops like grapes, and it eventually makes its way to the Midwest and alters the photosynthetic activity of corn and soybeans. Rising nighttime temperatures and humidity fuel thunderstorms and affect crop growth and the health of livestock and the people who tend it. And crop insect and disease pressures are changing.

Make sure you’re protected

Farmers and ranchers should always be aware of the severe weather events their operations are most likely to face. Interest in “smart” agriculture in the western U.S. is rising as growers turn to technology to sustain ag output. A sound strategy also includes planning for severe events as well as making sure you have the right risk protection in place, including insurance for your farm or ranch.

Things that you can do to help stay ahead of weather and climate risk include:

  1. Developing a weather preparedness plan. Your plan should address your most likely weather hazards including things like drought, flooding, blizzards, high winds and severe thunderstorms.
  2. Using weather forecasting and monitoring tools. Many of these tools are available as apps on your smartphone. Many include valuable functions like live radar and local severe weather warnings.
  3. Implementing farming practices that mitigate risk. No-till or minimum tillage can help sustain soils if high winds are a common severe weather threat. Crop seed varieties also can offer traits like drought or cold tolerance, helping mitigate those risks.
  4. Creating alternative and backup plans for crops and livestock. If markets are available, alternative crops or livestock can help maintain the productivity of land even if it’s changed by climate or weather.

“We need to do what we can to stay a step ahead,” Gunasekara said. “Our farms are important. They have to stay productive so we can eat. We should make them our number-one priority with climate change.”

Talk to your Nationwide Farm Certified agent to make sure you have the right insurance policies in place.

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