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September 01, 2007

Price Of Wheat Sets Record Environment

Adverse weather conditions are taking a toll on wheat yields in much of the world; wheat prices set a record high this week. Bloomberg (via Cryptogon):

Wheat futures in Chicago climbed to a record, heading for the biggest monthly gain in 34 years, as demand from importers including South Korea and India reduced global inventories.

Prices for the grain have doubled in the past year as adverse weather in Ukraine, Canada, Europe and Australia damaged crops. Global stockpiles will fall to the lowest in 26 years by May 31, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. [Emphasis added]

Climate change is tough on agriculture, and it's only going to get worse. China, for example, projects that warming will reduce its grain harvest by as much as 10%. SMH:

Global warming will cut China's annual grain harvest by up to 10 per cent, placing extra demands on the country's shrinking farmland and threatening its notion of food security, an official has warned. This would mean China would have to find another 10 million hectares of farmland by 2030, when its population is expected to peak at 1.5 billion.

The head of the State Meteorological Administration, Zheng Guogang, told an agricultural forum in northern China that global warming would increase the cost of production because more money would be needed to fight new insects and diseases.

A one degree rise would also exacerbate ground-water evaporation by 7 per cent in a country where drought already affects 22 of 31 provinces.

A fall in the grain harvest of up to 10 per cent would mean 30 million to 50 million tonnes less grain at a time when an extra 100 million tonnes of food would be needed to feed an additional 200 million people in 2030, Mr Zheng said.

China has 20 per cent of the world's population but just 7 per cent of its arable land.

Chinese officials have warned that the country is already nearing the "red line" for the minimum amount of arable land needed to ensure the country can meet the bulk of its food needs.

At the end of 2006, China had 121.8 million hectares of arable land, just over the 120 million hectares deemed the minimum requirement by 2010. [...]

Global warming would cause more drought in already dry areas in low-lying and mid-altitude regions because rainfall would drop 10 to 30 per cent by 2030, Mr Zheng said, while wet, high-altitude areas would experience more drastic flooding.

Although climate change would have little impact on wheat production it would cause corn and rice production to fall. Though some places in north-eastern China had increased grain production because warmer winters meant rice could be grown there, most regions' grain output was falling.

Mr Zheng is one of a growing number of experts to warn against the negative impact of global warming. Last month environmental authorities said climate change was shrinking wetlands at the source of China's two greatest rivers - the Yangtze and the Yellow - and other studies found that glaciers, the source for many of Asia's rivers, in north-western China's Xinjiang region and in the Himalayas have been shrinking rapidly. Summer droughts and floods have already affected a fifth of China's arable land this year and agriculture experts have warned that a decline in the autumn harvest - which usually provides 70 per cent of grain production - could fuel inflation. [Emphasis added]

There was a time when people thought additional CO2 in the atmosphere might boost photosynthesis, increasing crop yields enough to counteract the negative effects of climate change, but that appears to be wishful thinking. New Scientist:

Climate change is set to do far worse damage to global food production than even the gloomiest of previous forecasts, according to studies presented at the Royal Society in London, UK, on Tuesday.

"We need to seriously re-examine our predictions of future global food production," said Steve Long, a crop scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US. Output is "likely to be far lower than previously estimated".

Most researchers believe that higher temperatures and droughts caused by climate change will depress crop yields in many places in the coming decades. But a recent consensus has emerged that rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide could come to the rescue. The gas thought to be behind global warming could also speed up photosynthesis, counteracting the negative effects of warming and even ushering in an era of bumper crops.

But Long told the two-day meeting on crops and future climate that this conclusion was a dangerous illusion. It was, he said, based on results from tests in gas chambers and small greenhouses known to be unreliable.

Long reported instead on the findings of four studies in the US, China and Japan that all test crops in open fields. In these Free-Air Concentration Enrichment experiments, gases such as CO2 were piped into the air around plants - a world first.

The FACE experiments showed that for all four of the world's main food crops - maize, rice, soybean and wheat - the real-world fertilization effect was only half as great as predicted by the contained experiments.

Meanwhile, in some FACE experiments, Long added a new variable not factored into previous studies. He puffed doses of ozone into the fields to simulate the expected rise in ozone smogs due to higher temperatures - and yields crashed. A 20% increase in ozone levels cut yields by 20%, he said.

Increases in ozone levels of this level are predicted for Europe, the US, China, India and much of the middle east by 2050. If Long’s findings prove correct, even CO2 fertilisation will not prevent the world’s crop yields from declining by 10% to 15%. [...]

The Royal Society conference also heard about dangerous temperature thresholds that could destroy crops overnight and give rise to famine.

According to Andrew Challinor of the University of Reading, UK, climate change will mean tropical countries like India will face short periods of super-high temperatures - into the high 40s Celsius. These temperatures could completely destroy crops if they coincide with the flowering period. [Emphasis added]

The world's food situation is increasingly precarious. Burning corn as ethanol doesn't help. Add the rising cost of fossil fuels (and therefore of fertilizers), the depletion of aquifers and glaciers, the loss of topsoil, and there's a perfect storm brewing. When there's no longer enough food to go around, people will get desperate. Desperate people do desperate things.

Posted by Jonathan at September 1, 2007 07:22 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

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