The condition of corn and soybeans considered “good” or “excellent” has been been 60% or lower now for five straight weeks, according to the USDA. Monday’s report had the condition of corn at 58% and the condition of soybeans at 53%. Last year at this time, corn was at 72% and soybeans were 69%.
Extended rain and flooding during much of the planting season has made for a difficult year for U.S. farmers.
“I’ve talked to many farmers who have been farming for 30 years or more – even a few with over 50 years’ experience – and everyone says they have never seen a year like this,” said Fred Traver, a farmer based in Ottawa County, Ohio. “Some talk about in the ‘80s when there was a year or two when they did not start until the first or second week of June. But never have they seen a year when people were not planting until June 20th or even later.”
“When I was a kid, my dad would say an inch of rain was a good rain. That’s just what we needed. Now we get four inches, five inches, six inches in one sustained wet spell that lasts two or three days. I don’t ever remember that as a boy. I’ve never seen the sustained wetness in the land that we have now. Even though the river hasn’t gone on the land it’s raised the water table so that the rains that we’ve had this fall, which have been unusually heavy, make it muddy. Continually muddy,” he said.
Climate change is coming like a freight train, or a rising tide. And our food, so dependent on rain and suitable temperatures, sits right in its path.
The plants that nourish us won’t disappear entirely. But they may have to move to higher and cooler latitudes, or farther up a mountainside. Some places may find it harder to grow anything at all, because there’s not enough water.
Here are five foods, and food-growing places, that will see the impact:
Wheat, source of bread and a foundation of life in much of the world, will suffer from hotter temperatures — and the country where the impact may be greatest also is among least well-equipped to cope with a shortfall. India is likely to see a large drop in wheat production due to heat stress — about 8 percent if average global temperatures rise by 1 degree Celsius, according to one recent study.
Many fruit trees, including peaches, have a peculiar requirement. If they don’t experience enough chill during wintertime, they get confused and don’t bloom properly. No bloom, no harvest. The peach trees currently grown in California’s Central Valley require about 700 “chilling hours” during the winter. But scientists are predicting that by the end of the century, only 10 percent of the valley will reliably see that much chilling.
Coffee can’t take freezing temperatures, but it doesn’t like extreme heat, either — at least the highly prized Arabica type doesn’t. So it’s mainly grown on relatively cool mountainsides in the tropics. Brazil is the biggest coffee producer in the world, by far, but as the globe warms up, most of its main coffee-growing regions probably won’t be suitable for growing this crop anymore, due to heat as well as more frequent rainstorms.
Nothing says Iowa quite like fields of corn. But climate models are predicting that a warming climate will bring several changes, most of them bad for growing corn. Rain will come less often, and when it comes, the storms will be more intense — neither of which is helpful for a crop that demands frequent rains, but doesn’t do a good job of preventing soil erosion. In addition, corn suffers when it gets too hot — especially when it’s too hot at night. Add it all up, and one study estimates that corn yields in Iowa will fall substantially, anywhere from 15 percent to an astounding 50 percent.
California, the biggest single source of America’s fresh vegetables and nuts, and the primary source of almonds for the entire world, is a dramatic illustration of how subtle shifts in climate can have huge effects. California’s farms rely heavily on snow that piles up in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter, and then slowly melts during the summer, delivering a vital flow of water to the state’s irrigation canals. As the climate warms, though, winter precipitation will arrive more often as rain, and the snow that does fall will melt much more quickly, leaving farmers scrambling for water to keep crops alive in late summer.
5 Major Crops In The Crosshairs Of Climate Change
Photos: Heather Kim/NPR