Climate Beer Goggles

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach [See update at the end]

There’s a new entry in the competition for the top spot in the “Climate Change Ruins Everything” competition. This is the claim that “Severe climate events could cause shortages in the global beer supply”, as discussed here on WUWT.

YIKES! If true, that is more serious than sea level rise … they explain the danger as follows:

The study warns that increasingly widespread and severe drought and heat may cause substantial decreases in barley yields worldwide, affecting the supply used to make beer, and ultimately resulting in “dramatic” falls in beer consumption and rises in beer prices.

So I figured that I should take a look at “barley yields worldwide”. I mean, if increasing heat causes “substantial decreases” in barley yields, we should see it in the record.

I went to one of my favorite datasets, the FAOSTAT database maintained by the Food and Agricultural Organization. It has production, yield, and area harvested for most crops since 1961. Here is their record of the barley yield over that period.

Since the global average temperature has increased over the period, I gotta say that it hasn’t had any visible effect on the global barley yield.

Is there a correlation between global barley yield and global temperature? To check that, I detrended both datasets to remove the long-term trend. This revealed that there is no statistically significant relationship between global temperature and global barley yield (p-value = 0.16).

However, I figured that this lack of correlation might be a result of the fact that I’m looking at the whole globe. So I repeated the analysis using the temperature and yield data for just the United States. In this case, it turns out that in the US there is indeed a negative correlation between temperature and barley yield. For every degree of US warming, the US barley yield drops by 266 kg per hectare (p-value = 0.01).

So it seems that they are right—barley yield does in fact go down with increasing temperature.

But how much difference does this make in practice?

To see that, I calculated just how much difference the change in US temperature made in the US barley yield. It turns out that the temperature rise in the US since 1961 decreased the US barley yield in 2012 (last year of the Berkeley Earth temperature data) by about 470 kg per hectare … and since the 2012 US barley yield was 6,251 kg/hectare, the warming in the US reduced the barley yield by about six percent.

Here’s the actual change in US barley yield (yellow/black), and what it would have been if there had been no temperature rise (red/black).

My term for that kind of result is that it is a “difference that makes no difference”. Six percent is far less than the annual variation in US barley yields from year to year.

In other words … the great beer panic of 2018 is just another in the long line of the alarmist “sky is falling” scare stories about the eeevil effects of “climate change”. So if you are of a mind, you are welcome to drink some beer to celebrate the good news … we’re not gonna run out of barley.

[UPDATE] Tom McClellan has graciously pointed me to the following interesting analysis:

Consider also that barley is only one input into beer making. Here are some fast facts:

A barrel of beer is 31 gallons. It takes about 75 to 120 pounds of barley to make that much beer, depending on the type of beer that is being made. A bushel of barley right now costs around $5, and it contains about 48 pounds of barley.

So let’s say that the barrel of beer takes 2 bushels, or about $10 worth of barley for that 31 gallon barrel. With 128 ounces per gallon, there are 331 12-ounce beers per barrel. So the wholesale cost of the barley in your bottle of beer amounts to about 3 cents.

The current federal excise tax on a barrel of beer is $18. Add to that your state and local sin taxes, plus sales tax at the register, and the amount of taxes dwarfs the cost of the barley. So the price of barley could triple, and it still would not exceed just the taxes on the beer.

But where global warming could become a factor in the cost of beer is if some genius politician suddenly realizes that drinking beer makes people burp, thus causing us to become enhanced point-source emitters of CO2, and then slaps an additional carbon tax on beer. That is a more reasonable risk factor for beer pricing than barley costs.

My very best to you all,

w.

PS—When you comment, please quote the exact words that you are referring to so that we can all understand just what you are discussing.

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101 thoughts on “Climate Beer Goggles

  1. Could you show us the yield curve for the US over time, similar to the global curve you posted? Most crop yields are rising everywhere for multiple reasons. I would expect US barley yields to be rising also.

    • Soy and Corn yields have increased dramatically over the last 30 years. Barley is a secondary, at best, crop and is grown on more marginal land as it is a low demand crop. One could say that barley is suffering a double whammy, farmers are growing it on more marginal/less suitable land due its lack of profitability vs corn/soy and that it doesn’t get the genetic advancements that corn and soy have gotten because it is a less valuable crop. Both of which could easily explain why it isn’t showing the yield gains of corn, soy, wheat, rice, cotton.

        • Yes, winter wheat replaced both winter and spring barley in the UK because it gave a higher yield and more profit.
          Barley was grown as a disease break drop in a rotation with grass, legumes and oilseed rape (canola) but did not make as much profit per acre.
          A variety of barley called Golden Promise is still grown especially in Scotland. As it’s malting quality makes it very popular with whisky distillers.
          New varieties of barley have been bred that give higher yields, but the feed varieties tend to yield more than the malting varieties, so it depends on what the maltsters are prepared to pay that determines a farmer’s choice of variety to grow.
          No doubt if the supply of barley decreases the value will go up and farmers will adjust their rotation and grow a larger acreage of barley.

          Off topic, graffiti on a pub washroom wall, ‘You don’t buy our beer, you just hire it.’

          • Another point with barley is that it ripens earlier than wheat, so tends to avoid the summer droughts.

  2. “In this case, it turns out that in the US there is indeed a negative correlation between temperature and barley yield. For every degree of US warming, the US barley yield drops by 2.7 kg per hectare (p-value = 0.01).”

    You have to go see what the authors of that Nature Plants paper hid in their supplemental information (link here):
    https://static-content.springer.com/esm/art%3A10.1038%2Fs41477-018-0263-1/MediaObjects/41477_2018_263_MOESM1_ESM.pdf

    Goto section 3.3 of the SI, page 23.
    (or)
    Their barley production %change by RCP by country results graph is here:
    https://i.postimg.cc/LsVtyZ7Y/Screen-Shot-2018-10-15-at-1-57-30-PM.png

    They analyzed all 4 RCP scenarios in CMIP5 into their economic and production model. Even in RCP2.6 (the most optimistic), they show severe declines in production across many smaller countries like Ireland and Denmark. With some of the big producers like US and Ukraine going up in all four scenarios, even in RCP 8.5, aka the So-Stupid-It-Burns Scenario. Canada is mixed bag of no significant change in any scenario. Even Japan and Romainia they show barley production apparently goes up in all 4 scenarios.

    Meanwhile in “poor” Denmark’s and Ireland’s barley production will go down no matter what happens according to this study.

    No wonder they buried these results in the SI.

  3. Willis,

    It’s possible the farmers have planted something OTHER than barley just
    to rotate their field crops…

    However, if the barley harvest goes down but the demand for barley (and
    beer) stays the same, the price of the grain will go up.

    If the bushel price of barley goes up, then more barley will be planted,
    harvested, and turned into beer.

    The price of beer may go up a bit, but no shortage can be assumed.

    • Along these same lines – If the farmers plant fewer hectares of barley, production (yield) will necessarily decrease. If they make less per hectare with barley than they can make on the same land, with the same effort, by planting something else they will plant (and sell) less barley. If the price goes up, they will plant more. They are not planting barley to make beer, they are planting it to run their businesses.
      Suppose ‘climate change’ is increased by more CO2 and that CO2 causes the barley to grow faster and better – and easier for the farmer. The price will likely fall due to increased supply and some farmers will make less. The next year the farmer will probably plant something else or plant fewer hectares.
      ANY analysis needs to take into account the Law of Supply and Demand.

      • nws: On the money. My uncle who was a very successful farmer said his secret was simple. Find out what everyone else is planting and plant something else.

    • Like most finished products, I suspect that the cost of grain is insignificant in terms of the final cost of beer.
      Especially when you look at the price of it in various forms…bottled, in cans by the sixpack, by the case, in quarts, or the bargain basement world of fresh from the tap out of a keg…the best and cheapest way to buy and enjoy it.

  4. Although not a habitual drinker, I’ve developed a fondness for Sam Adams’ Summer Pale Ale. Maybe I’ll pick up a 6-pack on the way home and celebrate this non-event.

  5. Say, w., do they list barley production by country (like Greenland), going back to 1000 AD?
    The last severe climate event that ruined beer supply, as far as I know, was the Little Ice Age putting all the breweries in Greenland out of business some 700 or 800 years ago. It also put the brewers, their families, their friends, and all of their little settlements out of business, too.
    The millennial Greenlander Vikings grew their own barley for beer back in 1000 AD, but activity ceased as the climate chilled. In recent years their descendants retuned to live with the other locals there, and in the current millennium they’ve resumed brewing:
    http://breweryimmiaq.com/start-eng/
    Thanks to fossil fuel heated houses, Vikings can once again live in Greenland, but they still can’t grow barley. That they import from Denmark.
    But they do use local water:
    https://www.anadventurousworld.com/greenland-beer/

    • Local water is what makes Kentucky bourbon so good. High hardness and 0 iron.

      Disclaimer: While I was born and raised in Kentucky, I rarely drink bourbon. But in the absence of beer ….

  6. Let us always use 0 at the origin of the ordinate, do not use 3000 as the lowest value on the “y” axis.

    • That is the traditional way to graph things. I agree it is instructive to also
      look at the graphs in other ways (such as you suggested). But, when one
      does the calculation of slope or percent change, that takes care of any
      problems due to the graph being misleading (or incomplete).

  7. The study warns that increasingly widespread and severe drought and heat may cause substantial decreases in barley yields worldwide, affecting the supply used to make beer, and ultimately resulting in “dramatic” falls in beer consumption and rises in beer prices.

    Uhhh … a decrease in demand does not lead to a rise in prices.

    Besides, “Then let them drink wine!”
    (Or a good Kentucky bourbon.)

    • Bourbon requires corn (maize).

      Scotch however relies on barley mash, ie in effect, it’s distilled beer.

      Canadian is rye.

  8. Science has finally came up with a reason that will energize the deplorables and cause to fight climate change. In the past it would have been aimed at tobacco. “Chew tabacco, chew tobacco, spit.”

    • Estimated barley CO2 sensitivity is 5.36 bushels/acre/ppm (percentages ratio).

      Then there’s the feedback from opened beer CO2 releasing into the atmosphere.

      Maybe the climate changes from so much beer-drinking or climate change causes more beer drinking.

      We need an international panel to spend 30 years on this.

  9. Well, if they’re right, then we can at least look forward to fewer Beer Hall Putsch’s and later consequences.
    🙂

  10. Maybe market forces are it work. Maybe olthe demand for barley is down and other higher price per bushel crops are being planted instead.

  11. They’ve hit on a very good index of horribler-than-we-thought catastrophe: beer shortage. Once that happens, it’s more or less the end of the world as we know it. In a bad way.

    I have several relatives who live in Africa doing various aid-humanitarian related worthy enterprises. They have experienced extremes such as war, army coups, famine and mass migration. One thing they consistently see is that no matter how destructive the war or trauma an African country is suffering – nothing ever stops the beer lorries. No disaster – man made or natural – ever gets even close to interrupting that vital arterial flow of the beer lorries.

    If something were to somehow stop the beer lorries, it would have to be on the scale of a Krakatoa or Mount Toba supervolcano.

  12. Sure, worry about the barley but it’s not irreplaceable, what about the flavour; the hops!
    You can make beer from wheat, rice, oats, rye, corn, sorghum or a sow’s ear at a pinch!

    Without hops, it would be worse than we thought… a real disaster!

    “Flavouring beer is the sole major commercial use of hops. The flower of the hop vine is used as a flavouring and preservative agent in nearly all beer made today.” – Wikipedia

    Willis, you now need to do one of those fancy beer-o-graphs to allay my fears for hops in our warming world.

    Please!

    Cheers 😉

  13. Three things wrong about this “analysis” before you even think about barley shortages due to climate change.

    1. If this thing was real, then barley production would be heading towards cooler climates to compensate for warming.

    2. Don’t know about the rest of the world, but here in Australia farmers make a comparison between profitability of barley and wheat each growing season. In other words production choices are dynamic and are influenced by many variables including prices, local weather, government policies on inputs as well as final prices.

    3. If barley production was really so threatened by the ever rising stable temperatures, there would be a world-wide research effort to develop higher yield, higher temperature drought resistant varieties. I know that’s happening with wheat and I expect it’s happening with barley.

    Just another stupid, thoughtless scare.

  14. In 2013 — my article in this website in 2013 — I presented at conference in Hyderabad showing the trend [similar to the one presented in this article for barley] in paddy along with chemical fertilizers use and irrigation at all India level. It is available in my books and articles. In 2007 book I included the same for Andhra Pradesh — known as rice bowl of India — along with other crops wherein the use of chemical fertilizers were low.

    Under rainfed agriculture the yield follow the natural variability in rainfall in a given region/country.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    • Bingo…this was my first thought when I read the article.
      I commented before reading your post Dr. Reddy.
      Like just about all plants and crops, soil moisture is far more important to yield than temp.
      Particularly when farmers can choose cultivars that are matched to the temps that are most likely in their particular area.

  15. I wonder if there is a difference between 2-row Barley and 6-row Barley growth patterns with heat?

    On the other hand, what does this all say about that Mexican Beer that I have in hand?

    Last time I was south of the border it was rather warm. At least Agave plants like warm and dry, so there will be Tequila and Mezcal.

  16. Willis, you overestimate the power of statistics. Foremost, correlation is not causation. Second, the yield of barley has a positive correlation with a rising temperature. Now let’s “detrend” both the yield and the temperature – and, for the U.S., the correlation turns negative. What the hell does it prove?

    • Without including local rainfall stats, or breaking out the temp in the growing areas and the time of year the crop is in the ground…my guess is very close to zero.
      IOW…it may have warmed, but if the warming is due to higher nighttime temps, less cold winters, and comes with less extreme Summer heat, well…

  17. Phew I was just about to shave my legs , eat Tofu , put on some tie dyed clothes and protest about Adani !

    • tofu?
      have you ever tried it?
      its maybe THE most foul substance i ever tried..it even beats the fake meat kibbles for gross value to ruin a meal;-)
      the chooks ate it…eventually= with not much happy clucking either.

      • My wife gave our Minature Schnauzers some and it is the only thing we have seen them spit out. LMAO.😂

  18. Must make sure that every demographic feels the fear. Next week global climate change will make Instagram and Twitter evaporate.

  19. The Europeans make beer out of wheat. The Belgians and Germans in particular do some very good wheat beers, and there are wheat hybrids for all sorts of climates. Sub-saharan Africans make beer out of maize. Thanks to human ingenuity, the world is very unlikely to run out of beer.

    • Asians make beer out of rice, as do Americans (Bud). But usually only in a mixed mash with barley, same as with wheat in Europe (and in Oregon).

      The first people to make beer out of maize of course were Amerindians. Chicha in Peru gets started with people chewing, so that the amylase in their saliva gets the fermentation process rolling, followed by spitting into a log vat.

      • Mmm. too bad I do not drink alcoholic beverages anymore, cause that spit beer sounds mighty temptin’!

        • Sorry to say, but there isn’t, that I know of, a near beer version of chicha.

          When you join in the spitathon, it really doesn’t help all that much.

  20. Mr. Willis, I was thinking that the trend in CO2 in the air has been increasing pretty steadily for all the years of that graph, so…might it be fair to deduce that any rise in temp is more than offset by increases in yield due to greater CO2 availability?
    And considering that this sort of crop is not one that is typically irrigated, or if it is only in certain places and only when absolutely necessary…maybe we can look at how rainfall has affected the yield?
    We know that for trees, rainfall gives good correlation to the width of the tree rings and hence growth in a given year, and that temps do not give good correlation to tree rings, if any at all.
    Unless perhaps it is very hot and unusually dry both at the same time.
    I wonder if we might find a way to analyze crop yield as a function of soil moisture?
    Taking into account as well perhaps, that plants need less water as the CO2 in the air becomes more abundant.

    • Please see:

      sjreddy [1983], A simple method of estimating the soil water balance, Agricultural Meteorology, 28:1-17
      sjreddy [1984], Agroclimatic Classification of the semi-arid tropics III: Characteristics of variables relevant to crop production potentisl, Agricultural Meteorology, 30:269-292
      sjreddy [1995], Discussion: Over-emphasis on energy terms in crop yield models, Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 77: 113-120
      sjreddy, rkmaiti, n.seetharama [1984], An iterative regression approach for prediction of sorghum (sorghum bicolor) phenology in the semi-arid tropics, Agriculture and Forest Meteorology, 32:323-338

      Crop -weather monitoring and crop forecasing scheme was implemented in Mozambique and Ethiopia and all these are presented in my book:

      sjreddy, [1993], Agroclimatic/Agrometeorological Techniques: As applicable to dry-land agriculture in developing countries, 205 [book review appeared in Agriculture and Forest Meteorology, 67:325-327 — revised version is under printing. This book is identified by universities as reference book at post-graduate level in Agricultural Meteorology.

      Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

  21. If memory serves me, there was a shortage of beer in Europe earlier this year due to a shortage of…..wait for it…..CO2!

    • They have bought vinyards in southern England (same chalk soil) are are making some award winning wines.

  22. Holy tree rings! It’s quite clear to the morally enlightened from that graph that growing barley for beer is what’s causing the global warmening and this must cease. The only righteous thing to do would be to introduce strict planning controls to shift all the pubs to the seafront and let Gaia wreak her revenge on the sinful-
    https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/research-maps-real-risk-of-major-tsunami-in-sydney/ar-BBOpMPI
    Those of us who understand and follow Gaia intimately must be seen to have clean hands in expunging this original sin and saving the innocent.

    • Similar to the cost of wheat in a loaf of bread. Without event the added burden of sin taxes on beer.

  23. Good article, Willi. As I sit here dirnking the Saison that I brewed, I would point out that only some of the barley crop is malted for beer production. Grains are by weight the second largest ingredients in beer after water. Malted barley is a major part of most grain bills.

    Being a home brewer does not make me a beer expert. However if there were a pending barley shortage, I would expect that there would be a buzz through the 20,000+ breweries about it. There isn’t.

  24. But just in case they are right, we should be proactive in banning the use of fossil fuels to prevent warming and forestall a beer shortage. Right? Wrong! Banning fossil fuels would result in severe shortages of barley and every other food product. The authors of the study know this, but they don’t really care. All they want to do is to publicize a dire effect of climate change that the average Joe cares about so he will stop being indifferent and demand that something be done to save his favorite beer. The authors expect that few will think ahead far enough to realize that the cure would be worse than the disease. It would create a beer shortage worse than anything the world has seen before. And without refrigeration, all those “Ice Cold Beer” signs along the highway would become nothing more than antiques for collectors.

  25. If it gets warmer, won’t Barley production move north like wine making did in Roman times?

    And even if it didn’t what are we supposed to do about it? I’m still waiting for someone to show me that any temperature rise has anything to do with mankind

    • last few summers in nth america/canada theyve battled to get harvest in due to?
      snow
      this yrs pretty grim from recent readings
      but it sure isnt warming what dunnit!

  26. Okay, I am drawing from the following :

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226861704_Barley_Production_and_Consumption

    as this was the first resource I could find on limited notice, so forgive me for the very general nature of the data.

    So, first point I have found is the claim that, “About 16 percent of barley is used for malting,
    seed or other industries”.

    So not all of this 16% is used for malt and not all malt is used for beer. Hold that thought.

    Second point I have found is, “The amount of barley for food, seed and industrial uses (FSI) is relatively consistent in the last thirty years compared to that for feed uses which is largely depend on the total production.”

    To me this implies that barley is feed because it is there, not because it is preferred.

    So, adding in, if the less than 16% of market used for beer is effectively fixed in total demand, then any reduction in global production would be at the expense of animal feed.

    Bad luck if you are an animal, but beer must come first and the reduction in global barley production would probably need to be something like 50% plus before beer is remotely affected.

    Any flaws in my logic?

    • barleys better than wheat for fattening chooks and nutritionwise for sheep n goats n pigs, prices around 20$au for a 20kg bag locally

  27. Willis: You crack me up sometimes.

    Now you had better check another statistic. How much beer production has risen, or fallen, as temperatures have risen, or fallen.

    Surely an increase in global beer consumption would be a far far better proxy for global temperature rise in the inhabited regions than one tree in Siberia , or wherever it was…

    (Apart from haggis, and porage/porridge oats, I am struggling to think to what other uses barley is actually put…ah. Animal feed. So a reduction in output of barley is almost certainly – since vegans don’t eat barley much, – a result of Vegans becoming more numerous. And a drop in beef consumption.)

    Have a nice day, and thanks for the article.

    • The barley goes into the cattle, who get diced and put in soup cans with more barley to make that yummy and stout Beef & Barley soup that used to be a staple of college students (cooked over illegal heat coils in dorm rooms).
      The Army had a C-ration equivalent, too. But those were heated over little cans of Sterno.

  28. Climate Beer Goggles

    Willis Eschenbach
    _________________________________________

    Willis, “Goggles” is YOUR beer.

    What about every grey day’s “Google”.

  29. It’s really depressing that junk science like this is accepted in a Nature journal. AFAIK (I don’t have access to the full article myself, but people who have, have told me so) they don’t take into account at all that IF current barley producing regions would give lower yield under global warming, the same warming would open up enormous NEW areas (e.g. in Siberia and Canada) that are currently too cold for growing barley for profit.

  30. But where global warming could become a factor in the cost of beer is if some genius politician suddenly realizes –>

    But where there is demand for a consumer good

    then this politician will put a VAT on it

    you’ll BET!

  31. One thing to remember is that barley is the cereal crop that is most tolerant of salty soils, and therefore less sensitive to salinization, always a problem in hot and dry environment, so if there is really a change to hotter and drier climates a shift from wheat to barley growing seems likely.

  32. None of these doom-sayers ever qualifies their predictions with is “if nothing else changes”. The entire history of the human race shows that people have survived immense setbacks by adapting. Lifestyles, environments, sources of food and heating, clothing, health and so much more have been developed to make life generally more pleasant and more secure.
    So whatever the problems, I have absolute confidence that the human race will adapt and survive and even thrive.

  33. Shouldn’t alarmists want us not to drink beer since it produces CO2? I find the argument that we must reduce temperatures to preserve a CO2 producing beverage….odd.

  34. Ah, they’re trying to influence Justice Kavanaugh should any climate change cases come to the court. Kavanaugh likes beer, or so I hear.

  35. There is an article in the Oct 12 issue of Science magazine about the impact climate change on lawns!

  36. “ultimately resulting in “dramatic” falls in beer consumption”

    Wait! It’s a scientific fact that warmer weather= more beer drunk!

  37. Barley basically grows in a cool climate with a short growing season. Even if significant global warming ever happens, one could grow it farther north. Moreover, a lot of pale beers substitute wheat flour. When you sprout and malt barley, enzymes in the fusion converts starch to sugar. With barley there is an excess of enzymes produced and brewers of cheap beers take advantage of this by adding wheat flour, the starch of which also gets converted to sugar, but not a flavorful sugar like barley sugar.

    Take a sample for testing to your vetrinarian and he will report your horse has diabetes.

  38. Willis, there should be a “Debbie Downer Climate Change” award handed out for the most pessimistic climatarian claim of the year.

  39. Idaho is a top barley and hop producing state. I the years 2002 – 2007, Idaho barley bushels per acre (Bu/A) averaged 80.3, whereas during 2008 – 2017 it rose to 94 Bu/A. Total harvested acreage remained steady from 2002 – 2017 at ~500,000 acres..

    https://barley.idaho.gov/production_quality.html

    For the first time, Idaho has surpassed Oregon in production to become the second-highest hop producing state at 13.2%. Washington and Oregon were at 75.4% and 11.4%, respectively. The yields for 2017 jumped up 14% from 2016. U.S. hop acreage has increased 79.5% since 2012; production by 77%.

    These rose-colored glasses are great! Pass those Beer Nuts down here, Jimmy.

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