My Master’s Thesis: Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change

I graduated from the University of Montana this spring! Below, you can watch my thesis defense on adaptation in agriculture.

Apologies for no human faces, I thought Zoom would save at least my own!

Thesis Abstract

In Montana, climate change is projected to increase interannual variability and the severity of weather events like drought. To sustain agricultural production, farmers must adapt to climate change within a complex decision-making process responsive to a range of climate and non-climate stressors.

This study explores how Montana farmers approach proactive and long-term adaptation, two types of adaptation which are not well studied, but are expected to be increasingly important for adapting to the impacts of climate change. To understand Montana farmers’ approaches to adaptation, I conducted 30 in-depth interviews with crop farmers across the state.

Farmers explained how unpredictability in weather and markets fostered a lack of agency and the sense that proactive decisions were gambles. When asked about the utility of two forms of climate information designed to help make proactive decisions, three-month forecasts and mid-century projections, most farmers thought they lacked reliability and relevance. Instead, to buffer against short-term fluctuations and overcome a lack of agency, farmers prioritized long-term adaptations with short-term benefits. These findings suggest that improvements in climate information and agricultural policy could support farmers in pursuing proactive, long-term adaptations.