Climate change will alter crop yields as 21st century progresses

As the 21st century unfolds, we are likely to face increasing challenges when it comes to producing food crops. In a recent study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change, research confirmed the findings suggested by their computer models.

Lead author Bernhard Schauberger commented on the recent research by the institute, and said that if temperatures continue to rise, farmers will face increasingly harsh conditions, characterized by the use of more resources and the production of less yield.

The models used by the Potsdam Institute rely on complex algorithms, computer simulation, and the authors are of course naturally skeptical of their validity when used for predictive modeling. But this study has shown that based on past crop performance, increasing temperatures put yields at risk, and require the use of substantial amounts of water to maintain production.

Based on past performance, their model’s suggestions seem to be accurate, and the implications of these predictions are quite serious. The reduction in the yield of maize and soy for example, is around 5% for every day that is in excess of 30 degrees during the growing season.

When viewed next to other food crops like wheat, a modest rise in temperatures a few degrees above the 30 degree mark can cause the loss of up to 20% of the total harvest. The percentage losses for soy and maize in the same scenario are even more severe.

The other factor that is more difficult to gauge is the effect of increased water usage, as this model assumes that the food crops are able to be irrigated. While the irrigation of the crops will allow them to continue to grow it also has the effect of increasing root growth. This will lower yields as well, especially as temperatures rise closer to the 35 degree mark.

As the recent multi-year drought in the United States has shown, the assumption that there will be sufficient water to offset the rise in temperatures is a tenuous one.

What is perhaps the most disconcerting result of lowered food production by the major growers like the United States and Brazil, is the secondary effects on an already under-supplied global market.

While the larger economies are likely to be able to adapt to shrinking yields, poorer nations that import staple foods will be hit hard by rising prices or scarcity.

Curbing carbon emissions is seen as the key to combating man-made global warming, but with coal and petroleum as the dominant energy sources in the world, the chances of materially reduced carbon emissions seems far fetched at best at the moment.

While the near term outlook is bleak, we do have the technology to engender both progress and environmental responsibility, but only if they are made priorities in both personal and social planning.

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