Extreme Weather is a Threat to Industrialized Crop Yields
by Evan DeMarco on Dec 06, 2022
It’s hard to miss the news about climate change these days. It’s not just global warming, although greenhouse gas emissions are slowly raising temperatures across the planet. Extreme weather events, like droughts, floods and heatwaves, have been affecting industrialized crop yields.
Wheat, especially, is at risk. The United States, Europe and India’s wheat crops have been affected by these extreme weather events. This is particularly worrisome, since wheat has historically been one of the easiest crops to produce. With extreme weather events affecting yields, the price of wheat and rates of food scarcity have both gone up.
Although industrial farms aren’t ideal, they currently play an important role in feeding the world. Read on to learn more about issues with crop yields, and what it means for our food supply.
Wheat suffers in extreme weather
As you’ve undoubtedly heard, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has interfered with global wheat production. Ukraine produces about a fifth of the world’s wheat, but cannot continue production while the war rages on. That puts a heavier burden on other wheat-producing regions.
Extreme weather events and rising temperatures have put their own strain on wheat production. Wheat needs plenty of steady rainfall in order to grow properly, but many regions are experiencing hot, dry weather and droughts. For example, the Midwest is a major producer, but wheat growth remains well below average. On the opposite end of the spectrum, floods and other extreme weather events can make fields too wet to plant and grow wheat properly.
The United States isn’t the only region struggling. Canada’s droughts and wind are causing soil erosion, while extreme heat in India is killing off crops. China has experienced seasonal floods, which further ruin wheat crops.
The effect on global wheat production
Experts have suggested that global wheat production is expected to drop to its lowest level in 14 years, throughout 2023. Not only does this mean that wheat production is down, but the ripple effect will affect everyone.
Low wheat yields contribute to rising prices for wheat itself—and wheat products, like bread, pasta, cereal and more. Relatively wealthy countries may simply expect to pay more for wheat products, but in countries where people rely on wheat for the bulk of their diet, populations may experience increased food scarcity and hunger. Countries which rely on exporting wheat as a major industry may experience financial disruptions and difficulties.
Meanwhile, even the wheat itself is affected. Greenhouse gas emissions have a negative effect on photosynthesis and water retention. This can shorten the growing season, and make it harder for the crops to absorb soil nutrients. In turn, the wheat has measurably lower nutrient levels. In other words, there’s less of this key food—and what still exists is even less healthy than before.
Finally, when there’s less wheat overall, there’s also less wheat to feed our livestock. Again, even though industrial farming and ranching operations are harmful to the environment, a good portion of the planet relies on them for food.
The effects aren’t just limited to wheat, either. Experts forecast that corn growth will also slow in the next decade. Corn is one of the world’s biggest crops, so this will have another negative ripple effect on the planet.
Fight climate change to protect our food supply
Our food supply is in danger from extreme weather events. In the long term, the only thing that will solve the problem is to fight climate change and stop global warming from interfering with crop yield.
We frequently tout the benefits of regenerative agriculture, which works with the land to preserve the eroding topsoil, improve the soil microbiome and turn out more nutrient-dense crops. Even better, regenerative agriculture can trap carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions in the soil, which has a net positive effect on the climate. It also helps improve water retention, which is key in increasing crop yield. Regenerative agriculture offers other benefits, too, like supporting livestock, wild animal and even insect health.
As consumers, we can’t exactly order America’s farms to start using regenerative techniques. However, don’t underestimate the power of voting with your wallet and contacting your local, state and federal representatives. When you patronize regenerative farms and spread the word to people in power, you can have a ripple effect of your own.
Climate change isn’t going anywhere—yet. But we should let the wheat crisis be a reminder that we need positive change quickly. As extreme weather events ravage the globe, our food supply is at serious risk.