A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, warns that important crop-growing regions of the world can expect changes to rainfall patterns by 2040, despite efforts to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term. Findings indicate that up to 14 percent of land dedicated to wheat, maize, rice and soybean will be drier, while up to 31 percent will be wetter.
The study relies on four emissions scenarios to predict time of emergence (TOE) of permanent precipitation changes, highlighting the year when precipitation changes remain permanently outside their historical levels for a given location. The driest regions include Southwestern Australia, Central Mexico, Southern Africa, southwestern South American, and the Mediterranean, according to the study.
Currently, the four crops included in the study represent about 40 percent of global caloric intake, highlighting a desperate need for investment in adaptation, and quickly. While some regions have 2-3 more decades more to adapt in low-emission scenarios, high-emission scenarios are showing major changes in the next couple of decades.
Of particular concern are the drier conditions expected for many major wheat producers. In Australia, about 27 percent of land used primarily for wheat-growing will see less precipitation, under a medium-emissions scenario.
“What we’re predicting are probably conservative years for time of emergence,” said Maisa Rojas, the study’s lead author and climatologist at Universidad de Chile. “Detectable precipitation changes are of course not only important for agriculture, but for water resource management more in general, so our results are relevant for other sectors as well.”
Areas not reflected in the study are likely to experience precipitation changes as well, said Rojas. But because natural variation in those areas is high, extreme change is needed before researchers can detect their times of emergence.
Runaway climate change will alter the pattern of ocean productivity and circulation and play perhaps irreversible havoc with fish catches.
LGlobal ocean productivity – the annual bloom of algae and the cornucopia of molluscs, shrimp, krill, squid, fish and marine mammals that depend on this flowering of the blue planet – could be in serious decline by 2300, thanks to climate change.
The harvest from the North Atlantic could fall by almost two thirds. The decline in the Western Pacific could drop by 50%. The overall productivity of the oceans from pole to pole will be at least 20% less.
But the latest study looks not at the immediate consequences of profligate human combustion of fossil fuels, but at the very long-term consequences of turning up the planetary thermometer.
Scientists report in the journal Science that three centuries of continuous rise in carbon dioxide levels in the planet’s atmosphere, as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion, could raise global average temperatures by 9.6°C.
This is ten times the warming already observed. It will change wind patterns, melt almost all the sea ice and increase ocean surface temperatures.
And with this increase in temperature comes change in the growth of phytoplankton, on which ultimately all marine life depends. There will be shifts in ocean circulation that will take nutrients from the surface and deposit them in the deepest waters.
Antarctic waters could become richer in nutrients. But the world’s human population is centred in the northern hemisphere. “Marine ecosystems everywhere to the north will be increasingly starved for nutrients, leading to less primary production by phytoplankton, which form the base of ocean food chains,” said Keith Moore, an earth system scientist at the University of California, Irvine, who led the study.
“By looking at the decline in fish food over time, we can estimate how much our total potential fisheries could be reduced.”
But time is running out: the oceans have yet to respond fully to the greenhouse gases that have already built up in the atmosphere in the last century or so.
“The climate is warming rapidly now, but in the ocean, most of that added heat is still right at the surface. It takes centuries for that heat to work its way into the deeper ocean, changing the circulation and removing the sea ice, which is a big part of this process,” Dr Moore said.
“This is what’s going to happen if we don’t put the brakes on global warming, and it’s pretty catastrophic for the oceans.
“There is still time to avoid most of this warming and get to a stable climate by the end of this century, but in order to do that, we have to aggressively reduce our fossil fuel use and emissions of greenhouse gas pollutants.”
By Jessica Eise and Natalie White, Purdue University
In Colombia’s coffee-producing region of Risaralda, small trees run along the sharp incline of the Andes Mountains, carefully tended in tidy rows. Thousands of green coffee berries turn brilliant red as they ripen, ready to be harvested by hand. The steep hills here prevent mechanized techniques.
Its unique geography makes Colombia one of the world’s greatest coffee-producing nations, selling US$2.64 billion of mild, high-altitude Arabica beans to countries around the world each year. Only Brazil and Vietnam export more coffee.
Despite their global reach, coffee farms in Colombia are generally family-owned and modest in size – perhaps 5 to 12 acres.
We asked 45 farmers questions that tapped into the farmers’ own conceptualization of climate change, such as “What is climate change?” and “How, if at all, has climate change affected you as a farmer?”
The results were stark.
Over 90 percent of the coffee farmers reported changes in average temperature. Seventy-four percent said droughts had gotten longer and worse, and 61 percent reported an increase in mountainside erosion and landslides because of more rain.
The farmers also perceived impacts of these environmental changes on their crops. Ninety-one percent reported changes in the flowering and fruiting cycles of the coffee plants. Seventy-five percent had noticed an increase in pests, and 59 percent reported an increase in crop disease.
These changes have created uncertainty about previously routine farming decisions.
Because the planting and harvesting seasons are no longer regular or predictable, for example, many farmers cannot rely on traditional seasonal indicators to guide them about the right time to plant, harvest or tend to their coffee crops.
Organizing labor to pick the coffee beans has also become a struggle because the trees often do not flower at the same time due to unstable seasonal conditions. New Colombian labor laws meant to decrease child labor make finding farmhands difficult, compounding the problem.
In short, the farmers saw climate change as nothing less than an existential threat.
“Our ability to counteract the effects of climate change is minimal,” one farmer told us. “It is a threat capable of greatly incapacitating us. So we must be very attentive to the little we can do to mitigate.”
Growing coffee in today’s climate
From 2008 to 2013, Colombia’s coffee production dropped approximately 33 percent due to the El Niño and La Niña inclement weather patterns, when rains, clouds and hot spells all increased.
The country has worked to increase its production since then, and this year Colombian coffee farmers are expected to produce 13.3 million bags of coffee beans – roughly 1.8 billion pounds – up about 23 percent from 2013 levels.
But they’re still short of the national production goals of 14.7 million bags, a shortfall the Colombian National Coffee Federation has attributed to excessive rain and cloudiness.
Even before climate change endangered their crop, Colombian coffee farmers were already operating on a very slim profit margin.
Most producers sell their coffee to the Colombian National Coffee Federation, a nonprofit cooperative founded in 1927 to represent Colombia’s coffee farmers nationally and internationally. It values Colombia’s coffee exports using a price scale tied to the New York Stock Exchange.
Since that price fluctuates daily, it is difficult to calculate an individual farmer’s exact income or losses, but most small farmers in Colombia barely break even.
Under such circumstances, even one crop failure can devastate the family farm.
Farmers struggle to adapt
To adapt to Colombia’s changing climate, some farmers have begun experimenting with new farming techniques they think might help offset its impacts.
Roughly one-third of the farmers we interviewed had planted trees on their farms to shade coffee plants during hot spells and to prevent soil erosion during big storms. Others were building water tanks to collect rainwater during droughts.
Some coffee farmers had also diversified their crops, adding banana and avocados trees to their farms to reduce the risks of any one crop’s failed harvest.
But fully one-third of all the coffee producers we spoke with – 14 of our interviewees – are still farming as their families have for centuries.
They’re not unconcerned about the environmental changes affecting their farms. Yet time pressures and lack of resources give them little choice but to focus on short-term demands like making payroll, paying debts and keeping food on the table.
Keeping Colombia’s coffee industry alive
Climate-related production challenges are a concern not just for the farmers we interviewed but also for Colombia’s economy.
Other developing countries where the coffee industry is being hit hard by climate change, such as Brazil and Tanzania, have tried some successful adaptation strategies. These include introducing new varieties of coffee beans, improving soil and water management and increasing access to loans and other financial services to help farmers weather failed crops or invest in new technologies.
That was the work we began to do in Risaralda. We hope our findings can help the Colombian government work with farmers to help them adapt their farming practices for a future of more extreme, unpredictable weather.
Farming in the face of climate change involves grappling with many complicated economic, informational, labor and business problems. Colombian coffee farmers want to succeed, but they’ll need help in all of these areas just to survive.
In the sixth episode of This New Climate, host Will Bugler takes a deep dive into the intricate network of suppliers, traders and retailers that make up the food supply network. This episode explores how the risks of climate change are being disproportionately shouldered by smallholder famers, and presents an innovative project called WINnERS, that has helped farmers in Tanzania to share the cost of climate change more evenly across the supply chain.
Episode guests: Christof Walter from Christof Walter Associates, Eric Chavez from Imperial College London, Olusola Sowemimo Founder of Ope Farms.
This New Climate is an Acclimatise production.
WINnERS is an EIT Climate-KIC supported innovation initiative.
In the fifth episode of This New Climate, host Will Bugler
explores a suite of innovations promoted by EIT Climate-KIC through
their Climate Smart Agriculture Booster that are helping farmers to
adapt to climate change while shedding light on how European farmers
have suffered under recent drought conditions.
Episode guests: Iris Bouwers, farmer and
Vice-President of the European Council of Young Farmers, Carlos Dionisio
Pérez Blanco from University of Salamanca, Jean-Marc Touzard, Research
Director at INRA the French public research institute dedicated to
agricultural science, and Roberto Zorer from the Edmund Mach Foundation
for Research and Innovation.
This New Climate is an Acclimatise production.
The Climate Smart Agriculture Boosteris an EIT Climate-KIC supported innovation initiative.
After a long-lasting drought,
Queensland, Australia, has been hit by extreme rain reaching up to 1.4 metres
in some areas – twice the amount that falls in London in a year. What started
as a sigh of relief in drought-stricken communities quickly turned into floods
that destroyed homes, infrastructure and left an estimated 500,000 cattle dead.
Michael Guerin, CEO of AgForce, a
peak organisation representing Queensland’s rural producers, said
there was no doubt this was a disaster of unprecedented proportions that will
take the industry decades to recover calling it a massive humanitarian crisis. “The
speed and intensity of the unfolding tragedy makes it hard to believe that it’s
just a week since farmers’ elation at receiving the first decent rains in five
years turned to horror at the devastating and unprecedented flood that quickly
followed,” he added.
Rachael Anderson, a farmer in
western Queensland lost 2,000 cattle, about half of her livestock. The losses
have put her business under severe financial stress, not sure how she will be
able to make repayments to her bank in six months. She added, “we can’t get
loans because we’ve got nothing to borrow against, none of us have got anything
left. I’m not going to lie, it will finish some people up, but others will be
rebuilding.” In the meantime, the rotting bodies of dead livestock and stagnant
floodwaters are creating an unbearable stench, but they are also polluting the
creek Anderson’s station was using as water supply to wash clothes and brush
The crippling livestock losses
come after more than five years of debilitating drought. Now, whole rural
communities are fighting to survive as farmers are left with nothing but debt.
Guerin implored governments to make sure these communities get long-term
support to recover from these recent shocks including bringing in specialist
Scott Morrisson, Australian prime minister, confirmed the federal government would provide an immediate in-kind payment of AUS$1 million to affected shires. As of 11 February, insurers had received over 13,500 claims from Townsville, Queensland, alone; the estimated losses are about AUS$165 million.
After the record-setting blistering temperatures of January 2019, bushfires that tore through 200,000 hectares in Tasmania, these extreme floods are just another frightening signal of what climate change is doing to the continent. As Adam Morton and Ben Smee write in The Guardian, Australia is “no stranger to extreme weather – bushfire, flooding, rains and skin-peeling heat are central to its history and mythology – but the contrasts this southern summer have been particularly stark.”
Cover photo by Commonwealth of Australia (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0): An MRH-90 Taipan helicopter from 5th Aviation Regiment delivers livestock feed to communities near Julia Creek to assist graziers affected by severe flooding.
Now there’s more bad news on the British food front; a just-released
report says climate change and resulting abnormal weather conditions are
causing significant decreases in the UK’s own vegetable and fruit
The unusually warm summer in 2018 – the hottest ever in England since records began in 1910, according to the report – led to a drop in the onion harvest of 40% and a decline of between 25% and 30% in the carrot crop.
In 2017 the UK’s apple growers lost 25% of their produce due to
unseasonably warm weather followed by an unusually late series of
“It’s really hard work growing fruit and vegetables, but erratic and extreme weather pushes you over the edge”
Matt Smee, co-founder of The Natural Veg Men
The study says climate change-related extreme and unpredictable
weather is putting at risk future supplies of potatoes – a staple of the
“The UK could lose almost three-quarters of the area of land
currently well-suited for potatoes by the 2050s under climate
projections”, says the report.
Last year there was a 20% drop in potato yields in England and Wales,
it says. More than 80% of potatoes consumed in the UK are home-grown.
“The climate extremes of the past few years – including the snowfall
and freezing temperatures of February and March 2018 and one of the
driest June months in England and Wales since 1910 – have been
devastating for UK fruit and vegetable farmers”, the report says.
Matt Smee, who runs a vegetable growing and delivery service in the
north-west of England, told the report’s authors that weather patterns
in 2018 made his job near-impossible.
“It’s really hard work growing fruit and vegetables, but erratic and
extreme weather pushes you over the edge”, says Smee. “I’d be devastated
if I had to deal with this year (2018) again.”
Livelihoods at risk
Lee Abbey, head of horticulture at the UK’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU), says farmers’ livelihoods are being hit.
“Farmers and growers are used to dealing with fluctuations in the
weather but if we have two or three extreme years in a row it has the
potential to put growers out of business.”
The study says that more than half of all farms in the UK report
being affected by severe flooding or storms over the past decade, while
water shortages in the increasingly hot summer months are a growing
“With climate scientists now predicting stronger and longer-lasting
heatwaves for the UK, growers are faced with increasing risks to their
operations and survival”, says the study.
The report’s authors say the priority for everyone – not just the
food and farming sector – is to work to reduce carbon emissions.
The study reports some positive developments; the NFU says the aim is for the UK’s farming sector to be net zero in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Increasing numbers of British farmers are investing in renewable energy.
If you are a big fan of your Ribena, you may want to savour your next bottle while you still can. A new study from the James Hutton Institute finds that milder winters driven by climate change will hit blackcurrant crops, resulting in fewer and lower quality fruit.
Already in 2006, GlaxoSmithKline, the company that owned Ribena then (it is now owned by Suntory) and was buying 95% of the UK blackcurrant harvest, was concerned that production of the fruit would suffer in milder winters. Currently, the UK blackcurrant crop contributes about £10 million GBP to the UK economy annually.
Like many fruits, blackcurrants
need a period of chilling before they start to grow in the spring. This helps
new buds build up a tolerance to frost damage and makes sure they burst rapidly
in the spring, during a time when there are plenty of pollinators such as bees
But researchers warn that warmer
winters can cause the plants to flower later in the year, produce fewer fruit
and reduce the lifespan of the plant. Additionally,
the threat of seasonal temperature changes can affect other fruit such as
apples, cherries, blueberries and plums.
Each blackcurrant variety prefers different levels of chilling, meaning that some are better able to compensate for warmer winter temperatures if they are chilled for long enough. The differences stem from the genetics, as some varieties have evolved in different climatic conditions or are the result of selective breeding over time.
This is where we can draw hope
for the survival UK’s beloved fruit, as explained by study collaborator Professor
Hamlyn Jones from the University of Dundee. “If we can understand this, farmers
can carefully select varieties based on the climate and conditions in which
they are going to be planted, and breeders can develop varieties that are more
resilient to both warmer winters or periods of extreme cold,” he said.
other words, if we take the time to understand what this particular crop needs
in a changing climate, we can begin to adapt by developing varieties that can
cope better with climate change.
The UK government needs to “fundamentally reform” its approach to land management in order to address climate change, according to a new report from the UK Committee on Climate Change. The report suggests that policies that govern how land is used in the UK have been fragmented and not enough has been done to encourage farmers and land managers to use land in a way that is beneficial to the environment and reduce the risks posed by climate change.
The report, “Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change” emphasises that climate change itself poses a threat to the land’s “ability to provide critical services including clear water, healthy soils and timber”. With a growing population, the report says, environmentally sensitive land use will be vital if the UK is to sustain sufficient levels of food production.
Agriculture is a primary focus for the Committee, which suggests that farmers could be paid to reforest land that is currently used for grazing livestock. Grazing, especially in upland areas, has a significant impact on the land’s ability to reduce flood risk – the UK’s number one direct climate hazard. To this end the report recommends a reduction in grassland and rough grazing of between 26 and 36 percent by 2050.
Forest cover in the UK, according to the Forestry Commission, stands at just 12%, one third of the EU average, making the UK one of the least densely forested nations in Europe. Tree cover on hill slopes is one effective measure that can help reduce flooding. Trees intercept water before it reaches the ground and also allow it to seep into the soil much more efficiently, reducing surface runoff. A study in the journal Hydrological Processes points out water has been found to sinks into the soil under the trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under the grass.
The Committee also recommend that the UK government promote a massive re-forestry effort planting 1.5 million hectares of new woodland and turn more land over to growing crops for bio-energy. The report stresses that these alternative uses of land could be economically viable for land managers and farmers, however the UK government would need to provide financial assistance to help them transition.
Men and women often have different roles and responsibilities in society and therefore experience climate change impacts in different ways. This video shows what Colombia, Uganda and Viet Nam are doing to develop gender-responsive national adaptation plans for the agriculture sectors. This country-driven work is carried out under a global programme known as Integrating Agriculture in National Adaptation Plans (NAP-Ag), jointly coordinated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Disclaimer: The designations employed and the presentation of the material in the maps do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of FAO and UNDP concerning the legal or constitutional status of any country, territory or sea area, or concerning the delimitation of frontiers.