Eventually, the effects of climate change, far from being limited to individual plants, could percolate throughout entire ecosystems. If springs become warmer, as predicted, the crop-growing season will expand. Insects and pests, thriving in warmer winters, will reproduce more frequently and spread more rapidly. Many, in fact, are proliferating already, as reflected in reports of abnormally high rates of disease outbreaks in the western half of the United States. Higher temperatures also are usually accompanied by declining rainfall, threatening to slowly transform once lush areas into arid expanses. At the same time, droughts and heavy isolated rainfalls could become more numerous.
For all the criticism that has been piled upon the $300 billion farm bill that Congress recently passed over President Bush's veto, the bill does include many provisions that pertain directly to concerns cited in the new report. Fruit and vegetable growers, for instance, will receive millions of dollars of new funding for research on pest and disease resistance.