Agriculture May Adapt to New Climate Conditions

The farming industry has a rough road ahead. With global warming expected to change precipitation rates and raise temperatures 5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, growing conditions will look dramatically different when this century draws to a close.

But the challenges raised by climate change may not be insurmountable. According to a new study, wheat-growers in North America are no strangers to altering their growing practices according to new conditions.

Economists Alan Olmstead of the University of California, Davis and Paul Rhode of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor assessed the ways in which wheat crops in North America spread into new regions with temperature and precipitation differences. Their findings suggest that it will be possible for North American farmers to adapt to the new growing conditions brought on by climate change.

“As global change takes place, adaptation will help solve some of the problems that are created. Scientists and farmers are not going to roll over and not do anything,” Olmstead said, as quoted by Discovery News. “When we look at how great the adaptations were in the past, it gives us a sense of what might be achieved in the future.”

Analyzing data from a county-by-county record of wheat production from 1839 to 2007, Olmstead and Rhode found that conditions are already dramatically different than they were almost two centuries ago: In wheat-growing areas, the median annual temperature in 2007 was 3.7 degrees Celsius (6.6 degrees Fahrenheit) lower than in 1839, and average precipitation was halved.

Farmers adapted according to geographic changes as well.

“Wheat moved much farther west. It moved farther north and it moved into much harsher climates — drier and colder,” Rhode said.

As settlers relocated to new areas, they introduced new strains of the crop depending upon the conditions.

Baenziger believes that experts will have enough time to develop new varieties of crops as North America grows wetter and warmer. But he does fear that the new climate will bring more unpredictable extremes.

He also says other parts of the world may face bigger obstacles.

“I’m optimistic about wheat production in the U.S.,” he said, according to Discovery News. “I’m far less optimistic about what it means when it gets hotter and drier in sub-Saharan Africa.”

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