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New study says we may have to re-think where crops are grown by 2045

Friday, September 4th 2020, 12:10 pm - "It's critical to plan ahead for future warming scenarios, particularly in areas like California that feed the nation."

Record drought and frequent heatwaves could change where farmers grow their crops in the future, according to a new paper.

Approximately one-third of the vegetables and two-thirds of the fruit and nuts consumed in America are grown in California, which is home to 76,000 farms. Some of these products make their way into Canada as well. According to the California Chamber of Commerce, California exports of agricultural products to Canada total around $2.47 billion annually, while food manufactures total around $1.35 billion.

But a changing landscape may force farmers to re-think where they plant their crops in the years ahead. According to the research, led by a team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), some California regions may become too hot and dry to support continued production.

The data suggests that by 2045-2049 temperatures will impact the timing and the location of when and where crops can grow.

"To ensure food security for California and the rest of the country, it's important to predict how future warming will affect California agriculture," Alison Marklein, the paper's lead author, said in a statement.

"We need reliable information about how future climate conditions will impact our crops in order for the agricultural system to develop an adequate response to ensure food security. For instance, one major challenge when considering relocating crops is that growers have specialized knowledge of their land and crops. If crops can no longer be grown in their current locations, then the farmer has to either move to a new area or grow a different crop, which presents a practical and economic burden on the farmer."

berkeley lab - crops Researchers compared how future warming will impact where and when five California crops can be grown. COURTESY: BERKELEY LAB.

LIVING WITH CLIMATE EXTREMES

Researchers compared how future warming will impact where and when five California crops can be grown. COURTESY: BERKELEY LAB. For their study, researchers focused on lettuce, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, and cantaloupe -- five annual crops with the highest U.S. production rate in California. According to the authors, these crops contributed to 64 per cent of the state's cash value in vegetable and melon crops in 2016.

Given they are also among the top fruits and vegetables donated to four California food banks referenced in the study, the crops are also essential for food security.

The team analyzed 15 years of air temperature data and information about crop temperature thresholds, as well as crop growing locations.

The team also looked at future warming scenarios to determine how much of the land would no longer be able to support the crops due to rising temperatures.

VIDEO: FARMERS FIND NEW WAYS TO GROW CROPS AMID WARMING TEMPERATURES

"We found differences in how warmer temperatures will affect the cool-season crops versus the warm-season crops," Marklein said.

"For cool-season crops like broccoli and lettuce, it may be possible to extend their growing seasons. But it may become too warm to grow warm-season tomatoes where they have been historically farmed in summer, and may require moving them to milder climates warm enough for growing tomatoes under the new climate scenarios."

While warmer temperatures in fall and spring suggest tomatoes might benefit from a shift in the growing season, a changing climate could still present challenges for farmers.

"Looking at the hot-dry future climate scenario, although temperatures in fall and spring are likely to increase as will summer temperatures, a shift in growing season isn't a viable solution because the summer temperatures are likely to exceed the critical temperatures for tomatoes," Marklein said.

"Tomatoes need four consecutive months for their growing season, so the gap in the middle filled by summer makes this unfeasible."

The study's authors hope the findings provide fa with some data to incorporate into their plans.

"It's critical to plan ahead for future warming scenarios, particularly in areas like California that feed the nation," Marklein said.

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Thumbnail image courtesy: PEXELS/Magda Ehlers

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