Claim: climate change means land use will need to change to keep up with global food demand

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.

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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 global food production.

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 climate change,’ 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.’

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96 thoughts on “Claim: climate change means land use will need to change to keep up with global food demand

  1. “Our model shows …”

    I bet none of the models have worked yet because they don’t understand the fact that farmers just don’t stand around scratching their heads. They adapt. Even if it did warm by 2050, which it won’t, crop yields and food will continue to increase.

    • Not so sure of that if we head into the sort of cooling we saw in the early 1300s. With weather being very wet for the period from 1310 to 1350, famine was a problem. The southern movement of the border between arable and non arable land decreased the amount of land for growing stuff. Of course, the cooling also chased the gerbils out of China and they brought the plague, but we can deal better with that these days.

      • “With a worldwide population projected to top nine billion in the next 30 years, the amount of food produced globally will need to double.”

        And you can tell a lot about the mooks programing the models when they think that a population increase of 16% will require a 100% increase in food yield. Maybe they assumed the entire population increase will be of Al Gore clones.

    • Only enough food if temperatures remain at least as warm as today or warmer, and at least as much CO2 as today or more. Don’t need models to tell anyone that!

  2. Some one has to tell me why warmer weather with more rain, longer growing seasons, more arable land and moe CO2 to augment and fortify the basic biology of agriculture adds up to a catastrophic disaster.

    • I dunno. Maybe the models don’t take into account yuppies retiring to the country and complaining about how bad fertilizer smells?

      • They eventually move back to town around here. Too much work to farm and the taxes here eat you up if you don’t. Combines make dust clouds and noise, critters ravage their gardens and folks shoot guns daily or ride noisy off-road vehicles. They didn’t expect rural living to be like that.

      • Or how bad the fertilizer generators smells. Especially when the farmers spread the fertilizer.

        I enjoyed England’s idea of fertilizing the brainless actresses and activists. Good use of fertilizer.

      • I have to explain to my city co-workers that guns going off round my house isn’t followed by lots of police sirens as they would expect.

      • Our livestock here eat on grass pasture and field stubble that otherwise might be used in fuel production, I guess. If you want to eat silage and hay, then I s’pose they compete.

        This year looks like bumper crops of every grain for my Illinois community. It’s been cloudier than other hot summers and the humidity has been steamy, but the growth was exceptional, with high tolerance to fungal disease.

      • Australia will have record grain and oil seed crops this year due to plenty of warmth, rain and CO2. Just as long as the rain stops long enough to allow the harvest to be uninterrupted from October to January.

    • Exactly. Despite all the ostensible ill-effects of global warming, why have the global yields of rice and wheat tripled since 1960, while corn has increased almost five fold? And why was 2014 a record year for cereal crop output worldwide, and why are American, Russian, and Canadian wheat crops so large this year that there’s a shortage of storage space for them? The reality is that agriculture, like any other sector, doesn’t sit back wringing its hands helplessly about potential problems; it prepares for and adapts to them.

  3. “With a worldwide population projected to top nine billion in the next 30 years, the amount of food produced globally will need to double. ”

    ..If the population is not going to double, why would food production need to double ?? Common Core math ?

    • Easy, Because 1/2 of the corn grown today goes into Fuel Production. 30 years from now, all those additional people are going to need fuel sources too

    • If they’d stop feeding people that can’t figure out how to grow their own food, none of this would be a problem. Stop giving Africans free food and most of this problem fixes itself.

      • They were feeding themselves, and others, before the religious war lords, political hacks, crooks, and despots took over. So they rid themselves of those shackles and developed their own which are far worse and destructive than colonialism. And they are not “free”.

  4. “With a worldwide population projected to top nine billion in the next 30 years, the amount of food produced globally will need to double” That’s not going to be a problem with more CO2 in the atmosphere.

  5. Why does the amount of food produced need to double when the population is only projected to increase by 20%?

    • Yeah, my first thought was “wow, 20% increase in population and 100% increase in food production, talk about an obesity epidemic.” Also, it is a relatively well known phenomenon that ~50% of all food produced goes to spoil. In the west it is primarily after final delivery (i.e. stuff you don’t eat at a restaurant, stuff that goes bad in your fridge) while in developing nations it is often before final delivery (i.e. at the supermarket). The cheapest fastest and easiest way to improve food production is to give better refrigeration to developing nations.

  6. I have a corn yield model that i rely on to make a living with real money (not government money)..
    1 degree F above 30 year mean temp in June, July Aug moves my model 1.5 bushels, or less than 1 %. The model has a good track record but that still does not mean actual yield is affected.
    +6F like in 2012 is a big deal, so by 2620ad we had better make some hybrids that can handle the heat better.
    And yes, i use raw temp data, not adjusted political drivel. Raw data has a better Rsq than official data to corn yields.

      • true, max T is declining
        unlike the article indicates we already had our main drought time here [perhaps one more year to come] in southern africa but I am afraid for you [on the great plains of America] the drought is still coming.
        The Gleissberg solar weather cycle is exactly 86.5 year by my count. We are now 2016,5 – 86.5 = 1930
        1845 and 1932 were the start of drought time on the great plains of America.
        go south young man, go south.

  7. ..I thought the GHG theory predicted the Northern areas would be affected the most ? Just imagine how much EXTRA food we could grow if Russia (Largest country in the world) and Canada (2nd largest country in the world) had just 50% less ice covering their land and 50% shorter winters !! ( hey I can dream, can’t I )

    • My thoughts exactly. But they cover this by saying : “.. 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.” and then base their summary on the amount of land not being increased. They even make some positive comments about temperate areas too, but as always it’s the sheer negatives that get highlighted, while the positives somehow just don’t count.

  8. The greater threat to the U.S corn crop is from any changes to the multi-billion gallon ethanol mandate supporting an artificial market with forced consumption, rather than climate change. Calibrate the subsidy-distortion model with the climate change model and you can simulate any answer.

  9. Surely with all that terrible plant food around less water will be needed to grow more crops, or possibly the same abount to grow more? Certainly up to a point!

    • Yeah, but it’s a new “approach” that combines “standard climate change models with maximum land productivity data, to predict … ”

      Don’t be so cynical. All these models are always ‘new’, or ‘unique’, or ‘for the first time’, or …

      • True, credit should be given for creative construction of progressively sciencey future scenarios by those who have “caught the wave” and understand what it takes to get more funding and prestige in the present scientific paradigm.

  10. Claim: climate change means land use will need to change to keep up with global food demand

    The first four words of this title are redundant – it makes much better sense without them.

  11. The premise is stupid, reflecting ignorance of agriculture. There are over 10000 wheat cultivars. For example, in backward Afganistan there are over 10 cultivars adapted to local conditions. In corn, there are short and long maturity cultivars, plus heat (southern US) and drought (western kansas, nebraska) adapted varieties. Conditions change, change cultivars or develop new ones. The process takes years, not decades.

  12. Yeah.

    Maybe they should be talking to the hydroponic pot growers I know. They can get quite a few crops a year, sometimes quite literally underground, during a Canadian winter…

  13. Wait. What if we were to raise the costs of food production by raising fuel costs, making food less affordable? Poor folk would buy less, leading to more widespread malnutrition, disease and death, particularly children of poor families, thus lowering population. Problem solved.

  14. If the population has increased to nine billion, then presumably the food producers have produced enough food to feed nine billion, so what,s the problem?

  15. Water, not temperature, is the limiting factor in almost all nations on earth. In the tropics it is the monsoon rains that bring life. The warmer it gets, the more it rains.

    Climate science is studying temperature when it should be looking at rainfall. Too many scientists living in cities, ignorant of the countryside.

      • The warmer it gets, the more it rains.

        generally this statement is correct, as it means more water vapor in the air
        however, in the context that ferdberple places it, it is slightly incorrect
        namely in the cooling period that we have entered – despite of all your phony graphs-
        we will find more rain at the lower latitudes and less rain at the higher latitudes.
        Basic physical chemistry.
        I predict drought conditions in northern USA and Canada from around two or three years from now.

    • They seem to think that if they wish it long enough nature will punish man for interfering in it. These projections assume that the IPCC models will be correct by then, so view them accordingly.

  16. There are really just a few factors one needs to consider going forward this century: 1)The Median Age of the Globe and 2)Trends in agricultural yields.

    The Median Age of the World is going up. It has been for decades. The last surge in global TFRs (Total Fertility Rates) occurred with the Baby Boomers (1946-1964 in 1st World countries) and again from 1982-2005 in Developing nations. The demographic momentum of the Baby Boomers has already run its course, as almost all Developed Nations now are either losing population or their median age has increased by 30% since 1970. The demographic momentum of Developing Nations will run its course over the next few decades. Already we’ve seen Total Fertility Rates trending below replacement levels across North Africa, most of Latin America and parts of Asia. Only higher life expediencies, and Developing Nations’ demographic momentum keeps our population rising.

    But, crop yields in most of the Big Ag world continue to rise. The Grain Belt in North America, for instance, continues to see near record level yields despite periodic droughts. Advances in drought resistant crops continue to allow these high yields. Increases in GHGs have also been a boon.However, much of our corn and bean crops go to producing ethanol, per the EPA mandates. But, even with this mandate. farm land prices in much of the Midwest peaked years ago. That is, we are currently seeing a glut of cereals being produced in North America. Add in other large farming nations like Australia, Russia, and Argentina, the problem going forward will not be too little food, but too much.

    Older populations consume less food than younger ones. By 2050, UN projections have only 2 or 3 nations with median ages below 20. Over half the nations in the world will have median ages above 35.The median age for North America by 2050 will be approaching 48. China’s will be 55, and India’s median age will be 38 years old.

    This study is just another ill-conceived attempt to frighten people.

    • Generally agricultural land peaked a while back because technology allows us to push yields on marginal land. In Michigan there are a number of operators growing corn on what are basically rolling sand hills, simply because 1) the rainfall patterns are sufficient, 2) the location is close to and accessible to their equipment, 3) injecting N is cheaper and easier all the time.

      • That’s going on along the Illinois River too, Mark. Fortunately river silt supplies the bulk of soil amendment in the sandy river valley gumbo. If the river floods, the farmer gets a govt check instead that year.

  17. When in Human history has this not been the case? And, when in Human history have these people been right? This is stupid built upon stupid.

  18. I’m not convinced that this study really looked at corn production in a rigorous way. Their statement that 43% of corn production is in areas susceptible to climate change makes no sense. Roughly 60% of all corn production is in the U.S. and China, (in China they feed a lot of hogs). Almost all the areas where corn is grown, in both countries, would benefit from a slight uptick in temperature, not to mention added CO2, and if the world is warmer it should be wetter … second, a lot of the low til processes now actually leave room for increased yields, but what would you rather do, make 8 passes in a field, during a growing season, or make six passes on 1.5 times as much acreage? There’s as much as 6-8% head-room on yields, right now, just based on cost-effective practice. The big downside on corm is that right now the commodity price is pretty much break-even. If the price were 20% higher I could have easily pushed yields by 12% this year.

  19. The last 4 decades have featured the best growing conditions for crops, since the Medieval Warm Period………..including the last 2 “hottest years ever” which featured record smashing production in the US Cornbelt……………where production will continue to soar, right where it is for decades based on the real world.

    Speculative models programmed with mathematical equations are broken when they don’t match reality. Humans that won’t acknowledge this disparity between observations and model projects in order to adjust models are being given a free pass with no accountability because their exaggerated and so far, dead wrong projections line up nicely with the political objective.

    Case in point. This study is based on climate change projections in 50-100 years from now. Most of the researchers will be dead long before any sort of score to evaluate their accuracy can be assessed. However, there ought to be a much better reconciling of the next few years of reality/observations and the first few years of their model projections.

    If that had been done with projections 20 years ago, 10 years ago and 5 years ago with regards to world food production and growing conditions, there would be have been a learning process imparted onto modelers that comes with being connected to reality……….outside the world of speculative models.

    You wonder why meteorologists are such a strong force in the skeptical world of climate science?
    They rely on dozens of (essential) models that are constantly being updated but are always connected to the real world of atmospheric science.

  20. First, the 9 Billion population assumption is fantasy. The rate of population growth is leveling off. It peaked in 1970 at 2.08% and it’s down to 1.13% now. Population based on the actual numbers is expected to level off and possibly start decreasing in another 30 years. Second, food production has been increasing due to the increase in CO2. Russia is EXPORTING grain this year.

  21. About 34% of corn in the US is consumed by the mandate to blend ethanol into motor vehicle gasoline. So when some study authors fret about how much maize is grown in “areas vulnerable to the effects of climate change” does this include corn grown to fulfill such biofuel mandates or not? This is problematic given the debatable net marginal contribution that biofuels make to CO2 emissions.

    • The simplest way to guarantee more crops is to eliminate stupid food -to-fuel programs. That will give the US a 34% increase right off the bat. The biggest problem reducing food-to-fuel will be keeping crop prices up. The most successful farmers watch the prices like a hawk and respond quickly to changes to keep some sort of decent ROI going.

  22. Replace the green blight with high-density, serially reliable energy producers.

    Also, Africa has some of the most fertile land on Earth. There is no excuse for its continued disuse, misuse and trickle-up poverty.

    • Obviously not if they’re all eating from the same menu but they’re not! What I haven’t seen mentioned in this thread so far is that a non-trivial number of those 8 or 9 billion are currently in poverty and malnourished. Bringing them up to parity or even near parity with the ‘developed nations’ means the equation has three variables, not two!

      I’ve read Bjorn Lomborg’s book so I know that situation is improving but we aren’t there yet. And I understand that those people need reliable energy too.

  23. These guys actually do believe that everyone else in the world is an idiot.
    Even assuming that the warming they predict happens:
    When the belt in which corn can be grown shifts poleward, for every acre of land that is lost to corn at the warm end, an acre is gained at the cool end of the belt.
    If the weather becomes to warm for corn, the farmer will switch to something else.

  24. On average, water vapor cycles through the atmosphere 40 times per year or each 9 days.

    In global warming theory, water vapor levels have to increase by 23% (for water vapor to produce 1.5C of the doubled 3.0C temperature impact.

    So each 9 days, it is going to rain 22% more (and evaporation rates will increase by 23%).

    Plants, however, will be much less succeptible to evapotranspiration and will grow much more efficiently.

    22% more rain, 23% faster soil evaporation, but still the same 9 day water vapor cycling, 50% reduction in evaporation from the plants themselves.

    There is no way a climate study can come to the conclusion that yields will decline in that scenario.

  25. My god it’s even worse than we thought.
    If they put as much effort into fusion as they do into trying bilk taxpayers with this crap we would all have Mr. Fusion units in our flying cars by now. Lol.

  26. Perhaps it is as simple as the University of Birmingham realizing that their future take from government grants is not looking too good right now. Make another catastrophic prediction, bring in the money.

  27. “…University of Birmingham academic Dr Tom Pugh…”

    For someone who’s probably never spent one day rising when the rooster crows, driving a tractor cultivating a field, or loading a truck with grain, he sure does know how to shovel the manure.

  28. I had to laugh when I read the headline: “climate change means land use will need to change to keep up with global food demand”.
    That is what has been going on since climate change (specifically global warming) melted all the Ice Age glaciers and enabled population growth, increasing food demand and driving the development of agriculture, which changes land use. About 11,000 years or so…

  29. The timing of this report is ironic in that it coincides with a year of record crops. To me the biggest threat to food production is that the oversupply of food due to increased CO 2 will create an oversupply pushing down prices discouraging farmers from planting and creating future unhealthy volatility in food supplies. I would think that in modelling the next 34 years one should look at what happened since 1982 and feel comforted that even as climate change is occurring ( if it is ) food shortages won’t be one of the global consequences.

  30. This reminds me so much of Good Old Tim Flannery, otherwise known as film flam flannery in Australia. He went about preaching about the land being in persistent drought. “Our Dams will never fill again and the sparce rain that falls will be soaked up on dry earth and taken up by parched plants”. This was the new climate for Australia permanent drought. The goons made him Australian of the Year and then every Sate bankrupt itself building desalination plants instead of dams. In the intervening decade those plants have never run and it cost millions on contract to keep them idle. Queensland flooded with an area the size of Germany and France inundated, and the capital city severely flood damaged. Massive floods covered most of NSW several times the area of the UK. Currently the Southern State of Victoria is suffering 1 in 100 year floods. Virtually every dam in the continent is full many overflowing for the umpteenth time since we built these multimillion dollar desalinators.

  31. Ok, I’m going to just say it. They are fiction writers and it isn’t even good fiction. I’ve seen better science in apocalypse novels with disease vectors, Carrington effect electrical disruption, resource motivated wars, etc. Those authors at least started from a rational framework and wove interesting tales that they didn’t mask as pseudo-science modeling predictions. Hmmm. It would be fun to write one of those novels and publish it as scientific prediction based on computer models.

  32. Fortunately, back in reality, agricultural production is growing markedly thanks to increased CO2 levels and demand for water is reduced for the same reason.

  33. Firstly there is a need to minimise food wastage — FAO report stated that this is more than 30% — through transportation, poor storage facilities, poor post-harvest technology;

    Secondly there is a need to increase the area under irrigation as diffusion of technology is primarily related to water. Efficient utilisation of water resources plays an important role;

    Temperature is not an important factor but production is a function of moisture [rainfall & irrigation] deficiency, nutrient [fertilisers] deficiency & energy [from the Sun] deficiency. They are mutually interactive;

    For efficient utilisation of natural resources, cooperative farming plays an important role;

    It is not the quantity of food that is essential to keep the health inline but the quality of food is essential — this is possible through organic farming with the traditional animal husbandry farming part to get nutrient diet for healthy living;

    Urban population must be brought down.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

  34. If get gmo’d humans that live several decades beyond 100, we might reach 9 billion. Otherwise, probably not.

  35. Weasel word heaven attached to weasel models.
    Note how vulnerable is used. That is a huge weasel word in social sciences. Used properly is a useful and powerful word. But once degrees of vulnerability are introduced, then it is modelled to make the absurd seem possible.

  36. ” only other option is to increase the amount of land that we use.’”
    .
    Yup like land in Northern Canada, Russia and Siberia etc where it is too cold right now to grow cereals etc.

    Well I believe its unlikely to get that much warmer in the next 100 years, but maybe a good investment, if you believe this tripe would be to invest in a few hundred hectares of this land. Im sure its dirt cheap at the moment.’

    Take note Dr S. Jeevanada Reddy!

    Cheers

    Roger

    http://www.rogerfromnewzealand.wordpress.com

  37. don’t forget this recent study either:

    http://www.pnas.org/content/113/38/10589.full.pdf

    which tested whether hotter temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels that we’ll see post-2050 will benefit the kinds of plants that live in California grasslands. They found that carbon dioxide at higher levels than today (400 ppm) did not significantly change plant growth, while higher temperatures had a negative effect.

  38. Food production has increased largely because of technology and innovation from the United States over the past 100 years. This is due mainly to an economic system that has promoted land ownership, private enterprise and personal incentive. Climate and any changes in it have played an almost nonexistent roll. If anything an increase in CO2 and warmer temperatures can only be of benefit. The notion otherwise is ill-founded. Creating an economic environment conducive to private incentive is much more critical toward feeding an ever increasing population than worrying about the natural changing climate.

  39. “This could lead to a major drop in productivity of these areas by 2050…”

    Will somebody please wake me up when their prediction even begins to look like it might come true? Until they actually get one of their gloom-and-doom predictions right, there is no reason to worry about climate change. No reason whatsoever.

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