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Climate change and the food on your plate

This past Friday the Trump administration published a report on climate change. The essence of that report was no surprise. The report, written by 13 federal agencies, found that global warming is real, it is caused by humans and its impacts are being felt across the country.
 
While there are still people who refuse to believe that climate change is real, the effects of it are quickly permeating every aspect of our lives. As I explained a few weeks ago, the effects of climate instability are being observed by the outdoor sporting community.
 
The warming climate is beginning to affect what types of foods we can grow and where we can grow them. If you purchase seeds and plants, you may have noticed the USDA growing zone map found in every seed and plant catalogue has changed. Almost every region has moved up by one category into a warmer temperature range.
 
For some people this might be a good thing. Areas whose winter weather was once too cold for some types of plants may now be able to successfully grow those plants. Unfortunately that scenario is not going to make things better for all crops.
 
The warmer winters that many of us may welcome will present problems for fruit growers. In 2012 an unprecedented heat wave in March caused early blooming of apple trees around the Great Lake region. The trees started to break dormancy, but then a return to winter caused 12-below-freezing nights, and a large portion of the fruit trees did not have apples that fall.
 
In addition several other fruit varieties like peaches, plums, apricots and certain nut trees must have a minimum amount of chilling days in order to break dormancy and produce fruit. Some growers worry that fruit production may eventually move northward, due to a lack of cold winters in parts of California.
 
California’s winery region is experiencing warmer days and warmer nights during the growing season. This weather is wreaking havoc on some of the premium wine grapes like Pinot Noir.
 
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences asserts “global warming will reduce viable wine grape acreage by 70 percent or more, making it impossible to grow high-quality wine grapes in many of the outstanding wine regions of the world.”
 
A drought in 2016, followed by a summer full of triple-digit daytime temperatures, caused avocado trees to dry up and die in Mexico and Southern California. This industry has seen an enormous growth in the past 15 years. However, last year's heat, attributed to climate change, saw a quadrupling of the prices of this healthful fruit.
 
As climates around the world heat up, pests, which account for up to 40 percent of crop losses, will become more problematic. Milder winters and a change in bird populations and distribution may result in bigger and more virulent insect populations.
 
Ohio farmers will see changes in our climate as well. Aaron Wilson, a climate specialist for the Ohio State University Extension, points to a recent study of historical data taken from weather information as far back as 1880 to the present.
 
The data shows Ohio is seeing more extreme rain events as well as higher nighttime temperatures in the summer. The study predicts by the end of the century, Ohio could see a 5-10 F temperature increase as well as less snow and more humidity.
 
Corn farmers in the state can already testify to some problems during growing seasons. Warmer nights may affect the growth of corn, which temporarily stops growing at temperatures of 86 F or more. Wetter springs mean farmers are having a harder time getting crops planted.
 
Maybe even more alarming is the effect of higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on the chemical makeup of our plants. Recent studies are pointing to changes in the nutritional value of our food, due to climate change.
 
One study showed that as plants are exposed to higher levels of carbon dioxide, they make more sugars. Additionally higher levels of carbon dioxide are associated with lower levels of minerals and protein and higher levels of carbohydrates in 130 different plant varieties.
 
Wheat and rice, two of the most sensitive plants to higher carbon dioxide levels, are a major source of protein for 71 percent of the world's population. This means that if our atmospheric carbon dioxide keeps rising into the over-500-parts-per-million range, “148.4 million people worldwide could become protein deficient by the year 2050.”
 
For some parts of the world whose farmers rely on glacier melt in the spring, climate change may completely halt most of their farming. Glaciers grow in the winter months, due to additional snow and ice, and then melt in the spring and summer, due to warmer temperatures. Since the early 1990s, scientists have noticed this process, one that was once in balance, is no longer in equilibrium.
 
What is happening to glaciers almost worldwide is a longer period of melt and a shorter period of replenishment of mass (snow). Photographs taken 50 years ago show how far and how fast some of these glaciers are retreating.
 
In some cases farmers will be able to adapt to these ongoing changes, but for many farmers and some crops, the rate of change exceeds the ability to adapt. In the future we may see a different variety of foods on our plates, due to climate change.
 

Published: November 10, 2017
New Article ID: 2017171109933