Changing Climate, Changing Cropland

Changing Climate, Changing Cropland

With global temperatures rising and rainfall patterns changing, global agriculture is shifting too -- with big changes projected. Places like Siberia and northern Canada that have been too frigid for farming in centuries past are expected to become cropland by the end of the century. But it's not a one-way equation of arable land expanding: people farming in countries like El Salvador and Honduras have already come up against unusually dry years that left many without food. According to a recent study out of Cornell, increased temperatures lead to more sensitivity in agricultural production. "In other words," The Economist writes, "each additional fraction of a degree is more detrimental to food production than the last."

Cornell University: Climate change reduced farming productivity by 21% since 1961, Apr 1, 2021.

Why This Matters

Where and how food is grown is essential for people's survival, and shifting agricultural patterns. Maize, wheat, and rice comprise nearly two-thirds of human food consumption. For every degree of global warming: maize yields are projected to fall by 7.4%, wheat yields by 6% and rice yields by 3.2%. However, the coming changes brought on by climate change could also lead to a rethink of monoculture production that's oriented around trade.

"Diversity is key. Under the current paradigm, we have an assembly-line approach to food," Lew Ziska, a plant physiologist and longtime Department of Agriculture researcher, told Inside Climate News last year.

Climate Change Impacts Animal Agriculture, Too

Hotter temperatures are changing the farm game for livestock as well as plants. Above 68 degrees, pigs and cows are out of their ideal temperature range, and these temperatures are increasingly common. Heat stress can cause a range of effects -- pigs will eat less when overheated; cows reduce their milk production -- and farmers are adapting. Fixes include giant fans and sprinkler systems to keep animals cool, but those can come with steep up-front costs and increased electricity bills. Animals kept in pastures, like goats, are also at risk of heat stroke, and farmers worry that there won't be enough pasture for them to graze.

"We know that the pastures are going to dry up if we get the summer droughts that it looks like we will be getting," Wes Jarrell, Professor Emeritus of Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Illinois and co-owner and operator of Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery in Illinois, told The Counter.

Columbia University: Food and Climate Change, Jun 8, 2021.