NPR reports in their “The Salt” food and farming series that five crops in particular may face the biggest challenges.
They highlight wheat, peaches, coffee, corn, and almonds. See below for a short synopsis of why farmers of these five crops should be concerned.
- Wheat is predicted to suffer from the rising temperatures, with heat stress expected to shrink wheat-growing regions in many parts of the world. However, wheat’s “treasure trove” of genetic diversity allows strains to thrive in far-flung climates. So, while warming temps will make some areas inhospitable to “amber waves of grain,” more temperate latitudes will be able to expand wheat fields as temperatures rise, and this adaptable crop may have the genes to thrive.
- Peaches, like many fruit trees, need cold enough temperatures in the winter to trigger a proper bloom. But, rising temperatures will likely limit the “chilling hours” required for a full bloom, especially in California’s Central Valley where much of the U.S. peach crop is produced. Add into this the challenge of pollinator decline, and fruit trees could be in trouble.
- Coffee plants are like Snowbirds. They don’t like to freeze, but they can’t handle very hot weather either. But since they can’t move from Arizona to Idaho every season, coffee plantations will likely suffer as temps rise in the tropics. Plus, there is lots of concern that the native coffee plants that represent a database of genetic diversity that could be invaluable as growers try to adapt won’t survive the changing climate.
- “Nothing says Iowa quite like fields of corn.” But corn yields in Iowa are predicted to fall significantly, from 15-50%, in the future. Corn growers will have to shift further north to avoid the high temperatures and low rainfall expected in the Midwest.
- Almonds are the poster-child for California’s water crisis, as these high-value orchard trees need lots of fresh water to produce. This region is already feeling the effects of “subtle shifts in climate change.” Specifically, farmers are learning how important snowfall in the far-off Sierra Nevada Mountains is if they want water in their irrigation canals. More winter rain means less snowpack, and not enough melting snow to refill canals during the hot and dry months. Thus, “California’s farmers may be forced to reduce the amount of land devoted to orchards, since there’s a chance that they will not survive a major drought.” While farmer’s and water managers are learning to conserve, the “irrigation paradox” is resulting in not much more water available for others downstream.
Dan Charles, “5 Major Crops In The Crosshairs Of Climate Change,” NPR, October 25, 2018.