Climate change impacts on food production

| 15th November 2019
How our farmers and food production need to adapt is at the forefront of the climate change discussion.

To adapt to a changing climate, farmers will have to change the way they produce food, and there may even be concerns with growing enough food to keep up with supply.

Each year, the earth's population grows, impacting the environment in small, subtle ways that add up over time. Unfortunately, climate change affects every aspect of our lives, right down to the ways we produce our food and how efficient our agriculture systems are.

One study conducted by Arizona State University found greenhouse gas emissions could cause the yield of vegetables to fall by 35% by 2100. The reasons for the lower yields varied between factors such as water shortages and an increase in salinity and less filtering of the sun's rays. 

To adapt to a changing climate, farmers will have to change the way they produce food, and there may even be concerns with growing enough food to keep up with supply.

Weather concerns

As the ozone layer becomes further eroded, crops will suffer from long, hot days. In traditionally milder climates, the types of vegetables grown may change to adapt to shifting weather.

Some crops are better able to withstand harsher sunlight than others, so rather than growing sensitive plants such as lettuces, farmers might shift to root crops such as turnips or carrots. The selection of fruits and vegetables may become smaller as a result.

It's more likely the agriculture industry will turn to hothouses or hydroponic growing methods to produce plants. However, if water shortages are an issue, hydroponic crops may become a thing of the past. Farmers may look for chemical solutions to grow food in, which would, in turn, impact the food itself by adding chemicals that don't naturally occur.

Global warming could result in shifting weather patterns, as well. Natural disasters can further impact agriculture and the meat industry, reducing the available food and driving up prices. Farmers must have a clear plan for how to deal with an approaching storm and its aftermath.

Winters could become harsher, summers hotter and the milder weather of fall and spring would be a thing of the past. Consumers and farmers would have to adapt to changing seasons.

Wildfire devastation

You've likely heard about the California wildfires ravaging parts of the western United States. One aspect many people don't consider is the overall impact and loss of life, as well as the loss of crops.

About 90% of the wildfires that occur are due to human error. People leave campfires unattended or flick a cigarette out their window while driving. Whatever the cause, once a spark hits the dry ground, the fire starts to rage almost uncontrollably.

An out-of-control fire damages grazing land, impacting farmers who raise livestock. It can also destroy crops, burn down buildings farmers need to store food and equipment and drive people out of their family farmland for good.

To adapt to a changing climate, farmers will have to change the way they produce food, and there may even be concerns with growing enough food to keep up with supply.

Extreme weather where it doesn't rain for months on end causes the dried-out land that explodes into a blazing inferno. However, crops are also often rainfed, so when it doesn't rain, a lack of moisture affects crops. Even if the fire doesn't reach the farmland, the food may become unusable as plants wither and die. 

On the other end of the extreme, when it finally does rain, the parched land may not be able to soak in all the water at once, and flooding occurs. Floods can cause issues such as storm drains and sewage overflowing and running into food supplies.

Increased production

Agricultural specialists work hard to produce stronger, more disease-resistant and higher-yield crops. Unfortunately, with the science comes some concerns over genetically modified foods and what they might do to the human body over time. Climate change has already impacted our food supply, and time will tell how much it is for the better or worse.

A rise in carbon dioxide in our climate could increase some crops such as rice, soybean and wheat. These types of food are not as high in nutrients and cancer-fighting agents as green leafy vegetables, for example. 

Flooding, changing seasons and other weather changes impact the growing seasons of specific crops and could cause more and more damage to outdoor crops, driving some food production indoors and spiking prices at the same time. Farmers will have to shift what they grow and how they grow it to keep up with an expanding population.

There is some good news for farmers in the northern United States, Canada and Russia, though. One report predicted the conditions in those areas would improve for producing food. However, conditions in portions of Australia and in the Mediterranean will deteriorate.

Global climate change will force scientists to figure out how to produce more, waste less and grow food even in less-than-ideal conditions. While many negatives accompany climate change, learning to better use the resources we have as inhabitants of our green planet is a positive move in the right direction.

Changing things

While some people believe the earth is past the tipping point where we have a chance to reverse the damage done to our climate, others believe it isn't too late to teach upcoming generations to care for the environment.

Small changes, such as conserving water, growing your food and reducing your carbon footprint, may start to shift things so food shortages and water scarcity aren't as much of a concern in the next 50 years.

This Author 

Emily Folk is a regular contributor to The Ecologist, a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

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