Climate Change Is Changing Agriculture

Climate Change Is Changing Agriculture

In agriculture, adapting to climate change has become a necessity.

As weather patterns change around the globe, growers are learning to adapt in different ways. Some can afford to partner with scientists and plant experimental trees; others are forced to change their crops. For farmers, transitions to new product designs and operations are costly, and the viability of these transitions is as uncertain as the weather itself.

Video Spotlight: Growers Fighting Climate Change

This post is based on The New York Times article, In a Race Against Warming, Growers Try to Outsmart Climate Change, by M. Cone, September 21, 2019, and the YouTube video, Coffee Growers Combat Climate Changeby GreenTV, May 11, 2012. Image source:  Shutterstock/Valentyn Volkov

Discussion Questions:

1. What are the effects of climate change on agriculture and farmers’ lives?

Guidance: During warmer winters, there have not been enough chilly days for male trees to produce the pollen when female trees need it. Pests and diseases have increased. Extreme, sudden temperature changes have killed mature trees. Extreme heat waves and droughts have decimated crops and cattle. The effects of climate change on farmers’ lives are not negligible either: reduced income, increased debt, changes in traditions and livelihoods, and in some regions, exodus from rural areas.

2. List methods of adaptation that farmers around the world have been forced to embrace? Provide examples.

Guidance: One method of adaptation is crossing genes to breed heat-tolerant trees. For example, new nut trees are developed using genetic materials of old varieties from the Middle East. Another method of adaptation involves planting crops at a different time. For example, corn is planted several weeks early so that crops can pollinate before the hot summer. Farmers who cannot afford to wait for the development of heat-resistant species have changed their crops entirely. For example, growers in Costa Rica have switched from coffee to oranges.

3. In agriculture, does climate change create an imbalance between demand and capacity/supply? What are the solutions?

Guidance: Yes, climate change creates an imbalance because over the years, the demand for coffee, wine, chocolate, and nuts has increased. Unfortunately, the crops necessary to meet that demand are less resistant to extreme weather patterns. For example, the demand for almonds has skyrocketed over the past decade. Almond trees require large amounts of water but, in the United States, most of the almond production is in California which is prone to droughts. Similarly, the demand for coffee has increased worldwide, but farmers in regions where it is traditionally grown (e.g. Costa Rica) are switching to other crops.

The solutions involve maintaining the capacity to provide the current supply and/or reducing demand. The development of new species mentioned in the article attempts to maintain capacity. Growing heat-sensitive crops in cooler parts of the world is another method of maintaining capacity. Reducing demand is not a strategy that is being pursued yet, but if supply drops, prices will increase and shift consumer demand to other products.


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