Climate change means land use will need to change to keep up with global food demand, researchers say

September 20, 2016, University of Birmingham
Credit: SC Department of Agriculture

A team of researchers led by the University of Birmingham warns that without significant improvements in technology, global crop yields are likely to fall in the areas currently used for production of the world's three major cereal crops, forcing production to move to new areas.

With a worldwide population projected to top nine billion in the next 30 years, the amount of food produced globally will need to double. A new study led by researchers from the University of Birmingham shows that much of the land currently used to grow wheat, maize and rice is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

This could lead to a major drop in productivity of these areas by 2050, along with a corresponding increase in potential productivity of many previously-unused areas, pointing to a major shift in the map of .

The study, published today in Nature Communications, uses a new approach combining standard climate change models with maximum land productivity data, to predict how the potential productivity of cropland is likely to change over the next 50-100 years as a result of climate change.

The results show that:

  • Nearly half of all maize produced in the world (43%), and a third of all wheat and rice (33% and 37% respectively), is grown in areas vulnerable to the effects of climate change
  • Croplands in tropical areas, including Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and the Eastern US, are likely to experience the most drastic reductions in their potential to grow these crops
  • Croplands in temperate areas, including western and central Russia and central Canada, are likely to experience an increase in yield potential, leading to many new opportunities for agriculture

While the effects of climate change are usually expected to be greatest in the world's poorest areas, this study suggests that developed countries may be equally affected.

Efforts to increase food production usually focus on closing the yield gap, i.e. minimising the difference between what could potentially be grown on a given area of land and what is actually harvested. Highly-developed countries already have a very small yield gap, so the negative effects of climate change on potential yield are likely to be felt more acutely in these areas.

Our model shows that on many areas of land currently used to grow crops, the potential to improve yields is greatly decreased as a result of the effects of ," says lead researcher and University of Birmingham academic Dr Tom Pugh.

"But it raises an interesting opportunity for some countries in temperate areas, where the suitability of climate to grow these major crops is likely to increase over the same time period."

The political, social and cultural effects of these major changes to the distribution of global cropland would be profound, as currently productive regions become net importers and vice versa.

"Of course, climate is just one factor when looking at the future of global agricultural practices," adds Pugh.

"Local factors such as soil quality and water availability also have a very important effect on crop yields in real terms. But production of the world's three major cereal crops needs to keep up with demand, and if we can't do that by making our existing land more efficient, then the only other option is to increase the amount of land that we use."

Explore further: Climate change: Trade liberalization could buffer economic losses in agriculture

More information: T.A.M. Pugh et al. Climate analogues suggest limited potential for intensification of production on current croplands under climate change, Nature Communications (2016). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12608

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SamB
3.1 / 5 (9) Sep 20, 2016
The solution to all our problems is population control. Nothing is going to save us while we continue to breed at these unsustainable rates.
dogbert
1 / 5 (4) Sep 20, 2016
SamB,
Unfortunately, the countries with the greatest population growth appear to have little desire to control population and often see any attempt to encourage birth reduction as an attack by developed countries to limit them. In these countries, population can be seen as a military resource.
geokstr
1.5 / 5 (8) Sep 20, 2016
Not to worry. As soon as we surrender all our freedoms and treasure to our Marxist overlords, they will make the tough decision as to whom is worthy to live, i.e,. those who will swear fealty to Their Greatness, and then they'll off the rest of us with nary a moral qualm, said antiquated principles like morals being considered weaknesses for losers.
Maggnus
3.5 / 5 (6) Sep 20, 2016
Hahaha!

geokstr not rated yet 20 minutes ago
Comment posted by a person you have ignored ... show comment

dogbert not rated yet 2 hours ago
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SamB 2.5 / 5 (2) 2 hours ago
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The comment section is becoming much better!
leetennant
5 / 5 (8) Sep 20, 2016
What a jumbled collection of racism, anti-intellectualism, and historical ignorance.

The article makes clear the problem is not producing food for 9 billion people but the limits to that food production of climate change. Now, I'm no big fan of the human race hitting 9 billion but
a) it is wealthy countries with low birth rates that have caused the climate change problem and
b) it is development that leads to lower birth rates so solving climate change and investing in the economic growth and development of poor countries will lead the population to decline naturally.

A technological, low-carbon, scientific future is better for everybody. And the only people whose numbers are too high are the myopic, pea-brained, over-privileged assholes who think what we really need is a world with less brown people.
gregthepeg
1.9 / 5 (9) Sep 20, 2016
Economic development is the key to reducing population growth and controlling environmental decline. The global fertility rate is 2.5 children per couple and falling. When it hits 2.2 we start going backwards. At present we are experiencing record harvests thanks to the fertilization effects of the extra CO2 which also makes crops more drought tolerant. Check out the work of Hans Rosling http://www.google...fUrLOYBQ
TrollBane
4.4 / 5 (7) Sep 20, 2016
Development is grand, and it will help, but what's really needed is a mass cure for irrational belief in invisible beings that will take care of everything if you just say the right things and hate the right people. I think you know what I mean by that.
leetennant
4.2 / 5 (10) Sep 20, 2016
Economic development is the key to reducing population growth and controlling environmental decline. The global fertility rate is 2.5 children per couple and falling. When it hits 2.2 we start going backwards. At present we are experiencing record harvests thanks to the fertilization effects of the extra CO2 which also makes crops more drought tolerant. Check out the work of Hans Rosling http://www.google...fUrLOYBQ


Hans Rosling would roll in his future grave at you using his work to support this 'CO2 is plant food' nonsense. Climate change will cause mass crop failures and a reduction in nutritional benefits from existing crops in the near future. Solving climate change is as important as development, unless you think the population problem is best solved by mass starvation.
Windchaser
3.7 / 5 (6) Sep 21, 2016
unless you think the population problem is best solved by mass starvation.


Well, technically speaking...
Mike_Massen
3 / 5 (6) Sep 21, 2016
gregthepeg claims
..we are experiencing record harvests thanks to the fertilization effects of the extra CO2 which also makes crops more drought tolerant
Wrong !

CO2 Not fertilizer. For plants (when not releasing CO2 at night) a low energy metabolic feedstock as if O2 for us - If we get too much its harmful !

For some food plants more CO2 shifts equilibria, they reduce carbohydrate output & shift to more cyanogens (& others) = Poison -> releasing cyanide & other poisonous byproducts as well down the metabolic track Eg eaten by cows etc

Already started in Africa re Cassava, Clover (cattle feed) of same propensity. Will you be happy to eat beef when its food is tainted even a little as effects still unknown ?

gregthepeg wrote
Check out the work of Hans Rosling
I did, he's *not a Food Scientist - I am !

Learn plant Biochem - in order to absorb more CO2 plants need More H2O, a balanced equation.

Carbs have H in em, where yah think it has to come from ?
john_mathon
1.7 / 5 (6) Sep 21, 2016
The best thing we could do to increase food productivity would be to produce MORE CO2.

Since 1945 when we unknowningly started pouring fertilizer into the air agricultural productivity has risen 30% from this "fertilizer." In spite of rising temperatures agricultural productivity continues to rise for many reasons. Since 1945 overall agricultural productivity has increased dramatically and total food production has tripled. Today many advanced countries spend 2% or less of their GDP on food production.

There are more ways to improve food and agricultural productivity than ever existed. Half of all food is wasted.

What this says is that if there ever is a shortage of food which is extremely unlikely given the growth of our skill we devote so little to making food it would take almost nothing to increase it if we wanted. Much ado about nothing.
Mike_Massen
2.3 / 5 (6) Sep 21, 2016
john_mathon confuses CO2 & Nitrates with this mindless statement
The best thing we could do to increase food productivity would be to produce MORE CO2
No.

Read my post, learn plant biochemistry

john_mathon said
Since 1945 overall agricultural productivity has increased dramatically and total food production has tripled. Today many advanced countries spend 2% or less of their GDP on food production
Yes, so learn about nitrates, minerals & mechanization

john_mathon wrote
What this says is that if there ever is a shortage of food which is extremely unlikely given the growth of our skill we devote so little to making food it would take almost nothing to increase ..
So think of ways to improve; energy efficiency, cooling, transport, recording, measurement & data logging etc

john_mathon wrote
Much ado about nothing
Don't come back until you learn basic stuff about Nitrates & other fertiliser growth enhancers & why extra CO2 bad for food plants !
jeffensley
1 / 5 (5) Sep 21, 2016
When did we start feeling the need to verify common sense with academic studies? If a region's climate/geology doesn't support agriculture, you take it elsewhere. Next up, apple tree range expected to move northward due to climate change. And it was funny to see the following article recommended by Facebook under this one...

"From a quarter to half of Earth's vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change on April 25."

http://www.nasa.g...ng-earth
leetennant
5 / 5 (5) Sep 21, 2016
When did we start feeling the need to verify common sense with academic studies?


When we evolved enough to realise that just because you did a rain dance and then it rained didn't mean the rain dance caused the rain. 'Common sense'? Is just 'stuff my Dad told me that I choose to believe because I've never taken the time to think about it'. Is is, invariably, completely wrong.

But I love that you're so supportive of open borders, and the free exchange of labour and products. And also support the acceptance of as many refugees as possible. That's very progressive of you. I didn't realise that "just moving" was considered a viable ongoing option generally. But I guess if your 'common sense' is telling you it's true, it must be.
Mike_Massen
2 / 5 (4) Sep 21, 2016
jeffensley proves he doesnt understand qualitative defintions wrote
When did we start feeling the need to verify common sense with academic studies?
As a claimed Environmental Scientist (ES) please define "Common Sense" from a Scientific perspective vs a layperson's perspective ?

jeffensley wrote
If a region's climate/geology doesn't support agriculture, you take it elsewhere
How do you define "support" & what period ie. How many rain cycles & if soil fertile what metric used to assess irrigation ?

jeffensley facile view
And it was funny to see the following article recommended by Facebook under this one...
Why funny, for a Scientist its a reason to verify details re consequences - did he ?

jeffensley wrote
.. shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide"
Why doesn't an ES as claimed know that "greening" is a qualitative term not congruent with plants being edible Eg cyanogens ?
jeffensley
1.3 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2016
But I love that you're so supportive of open borders, and the free exchange of labour and products. And also support the acceptance of as many refugees as possible. That's very progressive of you. I didn't realise that "just moving" was considered a viable ongoing option generally. But I guess if your 'common sense' is telling you it's true, it must be.


The people don't necessarily have to move but obviously the agriculture does... as required. And we don't have to have open borders, just a free market. Pretty simple really.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (3) Sep 24, 2016
jeffensley wrote
The people don't necessarily have to move but obviously the agriculture does.
There are idealist views but, seems jeffensley didn't considered comparative economics & its still people that tend to agriculture ie not fully & remotely automated - did jeffensley consider that ?

If he did & still made the statement then he must have based it on something quantitative such as an economic study, being the claimed "Environmental Scientist" he would do that according to his training, where is quantitative base jeffensley ?

jeffensley claimed
And we don't have to have open borders, just a free market. Pretty simple really
Really ? An Environmental Scientist has a grasp of how to guarantee a free market so the rich are not excessively advantaged over the poor less connected ?

Where is the quantitative base or even straightforward language a (claimed) Environmental Scientist would fully be expected to express ?

A Scientist ? he's not all there :/
philstacy9
1 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2016
It is Islamophobic to question the will of Allah manifested in climate. Take a knee before losing your head.
TrollBane
2.5 / 5 (2) Sep 25, 2016
"... he's *not a Food Scientist - I am !"
To a hungry Allosaurus, they're all 'food scientists'. That's why bringing back (non-avian) dinosaurs is a bad idea, even if it was plausible. But I digress...
Bongstar420
1 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2016
This is the perennial issue of the civilizations. Since the climate naturally varies substantially, people would invariably come to a point where they must move on to new pastures.

The question is, wouldn't global warming be better than the natural wild swings tending towards colder?

If you want to live in the next age of glaciation, just make up your minds. I can subsist in any environment really if I must. I can see living in the ice. My "way" of life isn't hugely different. There is farming inside, and there is farming outside.

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