These 5 foods are under threat from climate change

food 19

(Anna Pelzer, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Johnny Wood, Senior Writer, Formative Content


As climate change warms the planet, unstable weather patterns and shifting seasons are disrupting how crops grow.

Food producers face uncertainty as droughts, floods and storms become more frequent and rising temperatures lead to more disease, pests and weeds.

Here are five examples from around the world.

1. British brassicas

Unusually heavy summer rains brought flooding to Lincolnshire, the UK’s main growing region for cauliflowers, destroying much of this year’s crop.

At the same time, European growers endured a record-breaking heatwave that wilted fields of cauliflowers, leaving supplies low and prices high.

The shortage left restaurants and food businesses looking for alternative supplies or substitutes to offer customers. Cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli and Brussels sprouts can withstand certain temperature changes, but the recent extremes were too severe and harvests suffered.

While the current cauliflower shortage is expected to be a temporary disruption, warming temperatures increase the likelihood of droughts, floods and storms, leaving future harvests vulnerable.

2. US apples

Most of America’s organic apples are grown in Washington State, which produces more than 200,000 tonnes each year, according to The New York Times.

Hotter spring weather is causing an increase in diseases like fire blight, which is particularly problematic for organic orchards where antibiotics are not used.

Intense sunlight is also a problem, as it can burn the fruit’s skin causing defects, which often means they can’t be sold as eaters, but instead are used for juicing or pulp at a much reduced price. While it’s possible to erect nets over orchards to protect the apples from direct sun, this is an expensive process.

 

3. Coffee

Coffee doesn’t thrive in extreme heat or freezing temperatures, but is perfectly suited to the relatively cool mountainside regions of the tropics.

While countries like Brazil have farmed coffee for several hundred years, warming temperatures and more prevalent weather extremes are making existing growing areas unsuitable for the crop. At least three-fifths of current coffee species face extinction, according to a recent study.

Climate change is also threatening native coffee trees that grow wild in Ethiopia. These are a valuable source of genetic diversity, which growers may need to breed new strains of the plant that can thrive as the planet’s climate warms.

4. Wheat

It’s a staple food across the globe. But wheat is sensitive to temperature changes and some countries are less equipped to deal with the impact of heat stress on their crops. Places like India could see a reduction in wheat harvests of between 6% and 23% by 2050, according to a recent study.

The projected shortfall in India’s wheat output could be filled by other countries with cooler climates, increasing their existing production levels. Major wheat growers like Russia have untapped land resources with scope to expand their output and increase crop harvests.

Russia has the potential to boost its wheat production by millions of tonnes annually, research shows.

5. Californian peaches

Growing peaches isn’t easy, as the delicate fruit is highly susceptible to temperature changes. A successful harvest needs “chill hours”, a period of consistently cold weather, followed by a period of warmer weather. With too few chill hours, peach buds become weak and produce poor quality fruit.

Across the US, milder winters are causing fruit trees to flower earlier, exposing the blooms to frost, hail and other severe weather patterns, according to the Washington Post.

Breeders are working to develop new varieties of peaches, which are more resilient to changes in climate. New strains typically take two decades to cultivate, by which time the planet will likely undergo further climate disruptions.

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