As farmers sow this year’s crops, they may be distracted by the fact that by the 2030s — just over 15 years from now — crop yields in temperate and tropical regions will suffer significantly due to climate change.
Published on Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, a paper found that without adaptation, losses in wheat, rice, and maize production can be expected with just 2°C of warming. The study will sharpen the already-alarming findings of the Working Group II section of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, to be published at the end of March. Working Group II focuses on the environmental, economic and social impacts climate change will have and what level of vulnerability different ecological and socio-economic sectors will be subject to.
The Fourth IPCC Assessment Report, in 2007, found that regions with temperate climates like Europe and North America would hold up to a couple degrees of warming without a discernible effect on crop yields. Some studies even thought the increase in temperatures could boost production. However the new study, which pulled from the largest dataset to date on crop resources — more than double the number available in 2007 — found that crops will be negatively affected by climate change much earlier than expected.
“As more data have become available, we’ve seen a shift in consensus, telling us that the impacts of climate change in temperate regions will happen sooner rather than later,” Professor Andy Challinor, from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Furthermore, the impact of climate change on crops will vary both from year-to-year and from place-to-place –- with the variability becoming greater as the weather becomes increasingly erratic. Climate change means a less predictable harvest, with different countries winning and losing in different years.”
According to the study, starting in the 2030s crop yields will experience an increasingly negative impact with decreases of over 25 percent becoming more common by the second half of the century. Climate change is already of high concern to those working in agriculture as changes in weather, land quality, and water availability reflect across the sector. Food prices for staple crops such as wheat and corn are high this year as global production struggles to keep pace with rising demand. Crop prices are subject to very localized impacts, and the crisis in Ukraine has caused corn and wheat prices to spike as the country is a top-ten exporter of both crops. Climate change will only act to amplify the precarious nature of the industry.
Another recent study found that climate change’s average effect on crop prices by 2050 will be a 20 percent increase, with some prices not changing at all while others rise over 60 percent depending on the region.
In California, where a record-breaking drought is an indicator of the hotter, drier norms that climate change is bringing to the region, nearly 500,000 acres of cropland — about 12 percent of last year’s acreage — could be cut back this year, causing billions of dollars of economic damage. Prices of vegetables like artichokes, celery, broccoli, and cauliflower could rise as much as 10 percent.
California produces around 80 percent of the world’s almonds, with production more than doubling from 912 million pounds in 2006 to 1.88 billion last year. With global demand booming for almonds, especially in Asia, the California drought is likely to have a negative impact on prices of almonds around the world. While almond trees are not ideal for California’s already-dry climate and require significant irrigation, the industry has taken root and will be forced to adapt to whatever growing conditions the future holds.