How Climate Change Affects Food Production

Maybe you haven’t been too affected personally by the impact of climate change on the food that you eat yet. By 2030, if we continue on the same trajectory that we are currently on, we will all be undoubtedly able to see the negative impacts of climate change on crop and pasture yields, regardless of where we live.

How does all the weather negatively impact food availability?

  • High temperatures and drought decrease the productivity of both crops and livestock. One heatwave can cause the loss of more than 5,000 animals. Long-term exposure to heat can increase an animal’s vulnerability to disease, reduce fertility, and reduce milk production. Drought also reduces the amount of available animal feed.
  • Higher temperatures might increase the growth rate for specific crops and potentially reduce the yield of those same crops. This is especially likely for grains, such as wheat. In 2010 and 2012, high nighttime temperatures affected corn yields across the U.S. Corn Belt, and premature budding due to a warm winter caused $220 million in losses of Michigan cherries in 2012.
  • Many parts of the world rely upon rain for irrigation; when there is no rain, higher costs, and fighting over access to water can occur. A prolonged drought in the western United States in 2014 caused the cost of food to increase by 0.4% between January and February alone. Meat and dairy prices rose most dramatically, due to severe droughts in California and Texas. At the same time, drought in Brazil caused the cost of coffee, sugar, and soybeans to skyrocket.
  • More rain and flooding can delay the planting and harvesting of many crops. In 2008, when the Mississippi River flooded right before harvest for many plants, farmers lost an estimated $8 billion.
  • Insect and plant pests can survive longer and reproduce more when winters are not as cold. Pests can also invade new regions as temperatures and humidity levels change. Weeds, pests, and fungi often do best in warmer and wetter climates, and when they are exposed to higher carbon dioxide levels. When this occurs, increased use of pesticides and fungicides may become necessary, which can negatively impact the environment and both animal and human health.
  • Warmer waters may increase the risk of humans getting infectious diseases from eating fish. Changes in water temperature and the acidification of the world’s oceans are detrimental to coral reefs and fisheries. Some fish species can migrate to higher latitudes if the water becomes too warm, but some have nowhere to go (such as fish in the Arctic and freshwater species). Even if fish can migrate, they may need to compete with the fish already there for food and other resources.
  • Fires that pop up in dry and hot areas are responsible for the destruction of many crops.
  • Global food prices are already increasing and play a part in humanitarian crises in many parts of the world. In September of 2012, CNN reported that “From Ukraine to Yellowstone, in Pakistan and Kazakhstan, the skies have stayed clear, and the earth has been parched. And on the world’s commodity exchanges, the prices of corn, soybeans, wheat, and tea are surging.” In 2008 and 2011, wheat prices were blamed as one cause of revolutions in the Middle East. Poor people in Malawi already spend 78% of their income on food, while 25% of people in sub-Saharan Africa and 17% of the population in South Asia are undernourished.

Are there any predictions for how the weather will affect our food supply in the coming years?

  • Parts of the subtropics, including the Mediterranean region and parts of Australia, and low latitudes, could experience declining conditions overall for crop growth.
  • In Africa, yields from rain-fed agriculture could fall by up to 50% by 2030.
  • Maize yields could decrease by 8% in Brazil, 7% in China, and 3% in France by 2030.
  • In New Zealand, pasture for beef and dairy could decrease by 4% by 2030.
  • In Brazil, rice and wheat yields could decline by 14% by 2030.
  • By 2050, we’re likely to see an 8 percent average decline in yields for eight major food crops across Africa and South Asia.

What suggestions have been made to help minimize the fallout from changing weather patterns? 

  • Investing in small-scale producers who feed billions of people in the developing world.
  • Tightening regulation of commodity markets.
  • Putting an end to biofuel policies that divert food crops into fuel.
  • Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Helping poor producers to adapt to the changing climate.
  • Aiding countries in reducing reliance on food imports and look for alternative staple crops.
  • Planting crops with less tillage to preserve the moisture.
  • Reducing dependence on animals for sustenance.
  • Developing new crop varieties that are tolerant of drought, heat, and salt via breeding or genetic modification.
  • Adjusting current planting schedules.
  • Optimizing irrigation and fertilizer.
  • Managing soil nutrients and erosion.
  • Switching to eating more abundant types of fish.
  • Restoring mangrove forests to create sustainable breeding sites for essential fish populations.