National Geographic News
A photo of cows

Among the food industries affected by climate change, milk output is hurt by warmer temperatures: Cows produce better when it's cool.

PHOTOGRAPH BY RUS BOWDEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT

Chris Woolston

for National Geographic

Published April 5, 2014

The reality of climate change has already hit farms, ranches, and orchards around the globe, according to the latest report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While some crops will grow better in a warmer world, the report found that the negative impacts—including widespread crop damage, smaller harvests, and higher food costs—far outweigh any upsides.

The report predicts that yields of major food crops like corn, wheat, and rice are likely to start decreasing by 2030 and will continue to decline by up to 2 percent a decade.

No particular crops are likely to disappear any time soon, says David Wolfe, professor of horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and committee member of Cornell's Institute for Climate Change and Agriculture. Still, he predicts that farmers of the near future will likely have to take increasingly drastic and expensive measures to cope with epic droughts, summer heat, rogue frosts, and ever-changing growing seasons. "If it was as simple as gradual warming, farmers could plant around it," he says. "But as this global experiment has been playing out, farmers are seeing things they've never seen before."

As a result, he says, "millions of Americans are going to have a harder time affording a good, nutritious diet." Here's a look at five bellwether foods that could be especially challenging to grow in a changing climate.

Photo of a dying avocado tree
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID MCNEW, GETTY
Avocados hang from a dying tree in a grove that is being left to die because of the rising cost of water in March this year near Valley Center, California.

1. Avocados

Chipotle restaurants recently created a mild panic when it warned investors that if harsh weather limits the supply of avocados, the company might someday have to "suspend" production of guacamole. While restaurants are unlikely to run out of avocados anytime soon, Wolfe says Chipotle was right: Drought and heat could threaten some groves, especially in parched central California. "Avocados could be a poster child for the threats to California agriculture," he says. "Even if the current drought breaks in a couple of years, models suggest water is going to be an increasing problem in California."

2. Almonds

As Wolfe explains, almond trees—like many other fruit and nut trees—need long stretches of winter temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit to spur blossoms and buds in the spring. Many almond-growing regions in California barely get cold enough as it is, he says, so any winter warming could shut down some orchards for good.

Photo of dried grapes on a vine at a winery

 

PHOTOGRAPH DAVID PAUL MORRIS, BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY
Shriveled grapes on a vine illustrate the impact of drought at a vineyard near Paso Robles, California.

3. Grapes

Soaring summer temps can take a toll on these delicate fruits, making vintners in Napa Valley and elsewhere nervous. "They'll still be making wine for a long time to come," Wolfe says, "but stacking up against the best wines in the world is going to be increasingly challenging."

4. Milk

"Cows like cool weather," Wolfe says. "The optimum temperature for milk production is 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and not many dairy farmers can afford air conditioners. Milk isn't going to disappear, but it might have to be shipped in from cooler areas."

5. Tree Fruits Like Apples and Cherries

In a counterintuitive twist, climate change has left apple, cherry, and many other fruit trees especially vulnerable to killing frosts, says Jerry Hatfield, laboratory director of the USDA's National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa. "We've lengthened the growing season without changing the frequency of frost," he says. In 2012, apple trees in northern New York bloomed three to four weeks ahead of schedule, only to be hit hard by a late-March cold snap. Statewide, the harvest was worth about $250 million less than the year before. Also in 2012, an April frost largely wiped out Michigan's early-blooming crop of tart cherries.

36 comments
A.l. DuBois
A.l. DuBois

The big problem is cultural, as long as we continue in our present structure of a patriarchal warrior culture with its competitive ownership behavior we won't get any where.We just keep moving the chairs around on the deck of the Titanic when we in fact need to build a new ship.

Lazar m.
Lazar m.

These are worrying news, these are problems which last since years and it's worse from year to year.


Lazar m.
Lazar m.

These are worrying news, these are problems that last since years and it's worse

from year to year.

Ao Neko
Ao Neko

Everything begins and ends at some point. I agree that there are climate discrepancies that will make it harder to grow certain crops around the world and I mean the world not one specific region. The other problem piece of this puzzle is space an ever decreasing variable. Why are we just now beginning to seriously contemplate the rising demand for food and how to supply it? It doesn't mater if we create more resilient crops if there's no where to put them. There will also be much talking and debating on how to fix this problem or that problem, the thing is without every living souls effort to change their lifestyles nothing will ever change. This may be good or bad depending on where our loyalties lie. I think its silly that there are more cars than people yet so many of us can't afford one not to mention the addiction to technology that many of us have. Do we really need the newest gadget when it comes out and especially when our current products still work perfectly fine? We live in a world of excess, yet so many still do without. Priorities, what are they for the individual and for the world on a whole? Maybe this will seem off the subject to some but is it really to hard to see that all our problems are interconnected and that you can't solve one issue without first solving another.

Arnel Fuentes
Arnel Fuentes

it is fortunate to know there are efforts being done to save our planet like this one food..

Arnel Fuentes
Arnel Fuentes

there's much to know about the things around us.. national geographic helps..

Megan Alexandra Barclay
Megan Alexandra Barclay

unfortunately no one will ever listen.... how horrible are our kid's futures and their kids?... sad really.

Tyyne Andrews
Tyyne Andrews

We are indeed in the midst of change like we have not seen before... 


There is a New Message from God being given right during these crisis times... it is a spiritual solution to the challenges of navigating and mitigating a changing world. We must face what is coming and prepare wisely. 


http://www.newmessage.org/the-race-to-save-human-civilization 

This is a race to save human civilization. Nothing less.

N A
N A

1) Screw you for doing this in Fahrenheit, we grown-ups like to use Celsius.


2) If you're worried about 2% per DECADE decline in rice, etc, I'd like to put in perspective that you're never worried about 2% YEAR year monetary inflation


3) If cows like cold weather, Canada has like 10 months of winter every year. Almonds will be happy to grow up there, too.

Jeff Plitt
Jeff Plitt

And guess what, we're growing more corn? It takes twice as much water as other crops and tons of fertilizer and pesticides, and the corn seed that farmers use is infused with pesticides that grow with the plant and comes out in the pollen. Bees and other pollinators collect the poison pollen and take it back to the hive. Money is more important than food and trumps science. You see, we can eat money, we just have to be more creative with the sauce. 


Hemp, on the other hand, provides cleaner burning fuel than corn could ever hope to be, replenishes the nutrients in soil, requires little water, little to no organic fertilizer and little to no toxic pesticides. Not only is hemp oil and fuel what Henry Ford had intended to run his internal combustion engines but the hemp fiber and lumber to build car bodies. Everything you can make with petroleum, you can make with non-toxic, biodegradable hemp seed oil. One growing season can make more lumber than deforestation of hundreds of acres of trees, requires fewer chemicals to produce longer lasting paper, fibers longer lasting than cotton (cotton also requires dangerous pesticides, lots of fertilizer and tons of water to grow) which is inferior. The seed mash is higher in protein than soy and the oil is also a great skin conditioner and treatment for eczema. 


Yup, crazy hippies have been trying to show the US about hemp when the rest of the world is growing and using it. We import billions of hemp products to this country and the rest of the world can't figure out what our problem is.  

Tuck Neilson
Tuck Neilson

Sounds like agriculture in Canada will be booming to me.


Djarn Nicholas
Djarn Nicholas

maybe California isn't the only place in the world. I recon Californian farmers should get their seeds and cows from South Africa. We have temeratures much higher than noted here and we have no problems growing any of these foods. Avocado's grow in summer like rabbits breed.

Djarn Nicholas
Djarn Nicholas

maybe California isn't the only place in the world. I recon Californian farmers should get their seeds and cows from South Africa. We have temeratures much higher than noted here and we have no problems growing any of these foods. Avocado's grow in summer like rabbits breed. We have no issues with getting milk from cows, just take them into the cooler parts of the world if it's such a big issue. I could go on, but I'm done

Donald Adams
Donald Adams

Wonder how those mentioned commodities will fare in the up-coming 50-60 year "Mini Ice Age" presently looking us in the face?

Charles Kiss
Charles Kiss

Milk is in ice cream; and ice cream melts.

Norma del Caso
Norma del Caso

When I read this kind of articles, is when I feel more and more glad I never had children.

I am in my way out, thanks God, and once I kick the bucket is all over.

So, climate change, tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, volcanoes, drought, etc...

NO PROBLEM.

Sorry for those who will have to face them.

Amy Medina
Amy Medina

We'll this article makes it sound like the beginning of the end. XD

craig hill
craig hill

This article is childishly optimistic. Because of feedback loops increasing the heat in leaps and lurches, by 2030, 16 years from now, the northern hemisphere will reach 130 degrees F in summer, which is pretty impossible to grow much of anything in. The southern hemisphere will follow suit in the 2040s, and continue to increase in temp from there. 

angelo c.
angelo c.

The world is full of good news, isn't it?

Michael Wooten
Michael Wooten

There is still some prevailing mantra in some political spheres suggesting than CO2 fertilization would offset temperatures and drought. I have not seen any good studies that would substantiate this. 

MBW

Joan Hamann
Joan Hamann

Too many destructive people on the planet, not enough trees. 

Andrew Booth
Andrew Booth

Insects like warmer climates too. Will we see an increase in the numbers of insects attacking crops and fruits? 

If so, the obvious response would be to increase the use of pesticides - which would inevitably result in increased damage to the environment, rivers, oceans and other species.

Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan

@Megan Alexandra Barclay  Fortunately, the perk about agriculture is that new seed hybrids are constantly being developed and on top of that it is possible to always have an agricultural enterprise elsewhere. If it becomes too hot to grow avocados, you could always grow avocados further north in California or in Washington.

Cackling Crow
Cackling Crow

@N A What does it matter about their websites status of admission to monetary inflation or what units they used to determine temperature.  Celsius and Fahrenheit have a positive correlation so when one goes up, so does the other and in this scenario, that's all that matters; they aren't trying to measure the boiling point of a substance or something.  When an argument is brought up for the negative effects of climate change on agriculture, who cares about monetary inflation?  Money's value lies in our faith in said money, food is a necessity.  What are you going to tell your grandchildren, great grandchildren, and so on and so forth when you try and describe to them what an avocado tastes like because, going by your ideology, they wont be able to enjoy that flavor themselves?

Andrew Booth
Andrew Booth

@N A We usually calibrate our temperatures in Fahrenheit here in the UK too. The EU brigade are trying to get us to use French measurements but we were brought up with Fahrenheit and that's what we understand.

Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan

@N A  


1) This is an American agricultural study. So it only makes sense that it is done in Fahrenheit.


2) This study is done on agricultural productivity. It is not an article about monetary inflation.


3) Shipping milk from Canada is not a viable option because of the cost of gas, refrigerated trucks, etc.

Cackling Crow
Cackling Crow

@Donald Adams I dislike the terms "Global Warming" and "Mini Ice Age".  "Global Warming" is actually a catch-all which describes the advanced rapid heating and cooling of our atmosphere and ecosystem, meaning it contributes to not only those really hot summers but also that "Mini Ice Age" everyone keeps going on about.  If we were to reduce global warming we'd not only see milder summers but also milder winters.  While some of it can be contributed to the natural cycle of the earth's weather, "Global Warming" has sped up the transition.

jim adams
jim adams

@Donald AdamsThat "mini ice age" you mention? So yeah, Earth orbital characteristics say we should be going thru a "mini ice age" right now, and NE Canada is well on the way to having a full fledged glacier.


You should know, this is number 55 of the 55 glacial cycles during the last 2.5 million years, and the temperature graphs are remarkably similar for them all -- up to but not including our current cycle.(see Plows, Plagues and Petroleum, How Humans Took Control of Climate [William F. Ruddiman] Ruddiman is a climate scientist studying past glacial cycles, looking for similarities with our current cycle.  

2 things: First, about 8000 years ago, it seems humans started taking control of our planet's climate by burning more often than the natural 35 years re-burn cycle, and by clearing woods for the beginnings of agriculture. There was a very slow upward increase in world CO2 and temperature for the next 8000 years .. a minor deviation from the 54 glacial cycles before us, but enough to keep us from having the more normal diminution of temperatures and CO2 which other cycles had. Then came the Industrial Revolution and suddenly CO2 started increasing and therefore temperatures also increased till we are where we are today -- large climate disruptions (and increasing), oceans acidified (and increasing), methane releasing from the permafrost and Arctic Sea bottom (and increasing), the Antarctic thermohaline deep sea current stopped at it's Antarctic source -- and maybe it won't restart; the ice caps -- Greenland and Antarctica melting faster (and increasing) http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/29/15518574-antarctica-greenland-ice-definitely-melting-into-sea-and-speeding-up-experts-warn?lite


Second, "mini Ice Age" comes from Climate Deniers 2.0 and their pseudoscience. Climate Deniers 2.0 now say that "well, yes, there is global warming but it is user friendly. We'll be able to grow all the crops we need farther north, the sea might rise but only a little, sea life will adapt to ocean acidification. And No, No, No, CO2 is a friendly gas which plants use, not a nasty greenhouse gas so there is no need to disrupt our economies with carbon capture, anti-carbon laws and other disruptive policies" Real science says they are a few percent right and over 90% wrong. 

So hang in there, read/listen to Fox News and the London Telegraph for your information you'll continue to be misinformed.

Andrew Booth
Andrew Booth

@Norma del Caso I quite agree Norma. I've never had children and I'm so glad I didn't. It's not just the irreversible environmental deterioration, it's the economic and social disintegration that I'm pleased I never brought children into.   

John Fischer
John Fischer

@Amy Medina  And this article only addresses climate change. Even without climate change, humanity is accomplishing the destruction of the oceans and depletion of our top soil just fine. The search for the Malaysian jet has highlighted how our oceans have become trash dumps. China has been buying up food resources world wide because so much of their arable land has been turned into desert. War, famine and pestilence is not inevitable, but given the inability of the nations of the world to really work together, there is little chance that war will be avoidable. And the upcoming war(s) will make all of the previous wars combined look like a walk through the park. I have kids in their early twenties, and dread what faces them in the future. 

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