all STORIES Cover Photo: 10 Trending News Stories for Produce Distributors, Growers, and Shippers

The awful link between climate change and fruit and vegetable shortages

Alison Martin, Hazel Technologies
March 31, 2016 4:17 pm CST

How expensive would your weekly grocery bill be if every corn or corn-based item you bought doubled in price?

That’s not just ears or cans of corn. We’re talking cereals, pet food, yogurt, even some toothpastes and many other products containing corn would double in price and send your grocery bill skyrocketing.

Agricultural waste and global warming are part of a complex cycle.

Agricultural waste and global warming are part of a complex cycle. When foods such as produce go to waste, they emit harmful greenhouse gases, which in turn encourages further climate variability and crop shortages. The result is a less stable agricultural system.

If humans don’t act now to stop climate change, significantly higher produce prices at the grocery store could become a reality.

As climate change continues to cause problems across the globe, the true impact of climate change may manifest itself best on our dinner tables where our fruits and vegetables used to be.

Keep reading to learn how climate change can cause food shortages and why it’s a problem for all of us.

How Global Warming Effects Produce
We know now that climate change is very real– despite what some politicians may believe – and it could be devastating for our crops.

Here’s how:
All crops have certain climates in which they thrive in. Avocados, for example, thrive in Mexico’s climate, but would never survive on the Kansas plains, and corn stalks would never grow out in Death Valley.

Weather plays a major role in how plentiful a farmer’s crops will be – too much or too little rain, for example, can destroy entire fields.

Climate change occurs when greenhouse gases trap warm air in the Earth’s atmosphere. Our earth first gets its heat from the sun, which warms up the land. That warmth then radiates back into the air and – in theory – floats out into space.

Normally, the air would escape the Earth’s atmosphere, but when certain greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor and nitrous oxide – are present, the Earth’s lower atmosphere traps the escaping warmth from the land.

That warmth is then reflected back down to Earth, warming the surface once again.

This is called the greenhouse effect, and it does a good job of keeping the atmosphere warm – just look at Venus where no crop could ever grow.

Now a few warm days might be nice – especially if you’re spending them by the pool – but crops don’t respond to warmer weather as well as humans do.

According to the Clemson Cooperative Extension at Clemson University, some types of crops, such as corn, can withstand short bouts of exposure to extreme temperatures. If there’s a cold snap in April and the temperature drops to 32 degrees, most corn crops will survive.

In July when the stalks are starting to grow high, corn can survive for a few days with temperatures above 95 degrees.

For corn, variation is key, but what if temperatures in the summer do not drop below 95 degrees?

High temperatures plus little rain equals low corn crop yield. One year of low yields leaves a bad taste, but several years of low crop yields could cause major problems.

Climate change doesn’t just affect temperature. It can have an impact on precipitation as well. While a little more rain might be welcome in California, it can be devastating in areas along the Mississippi River.

When the river floods in Mississippi and Missouri, the Global Sustainability Institute of Anglia Ruskin University estimates large amounts of food waste: 27 percent of its corn production, 19 percent of its soybeans and 7 percent of its wheat.

While scientists know that climate change does happen naturally, their studies have shown that humans are greatly speeding up the process.

Climate variability can cause drastic shifts in produce and other agricultural markets.

Climate variability can cause drastic shifts in produce and other agricultural markets.

How This Affects Us:
Sometimes, it’s easy to dismiss big problems when we can’t see the consequences every day. In grocery stores, however, the effects of climate change are slowly beginning to show themselves. When less food is produced, food prices go up.

According to the August 2015 Grantham Mayo van Otterloo (GMO) quarterly report, food prices have doubled since 2000. In its report, The Global Sustainability Institute said food prices are actually expected to four times higher than they were in 2000 by 2040.

In our globalized world, no one or state country can be completely self-sustained. In the U.S., for example, California’s drought – which was made 15 to 20 percent worse because of global warming – will have lasting effects on future generations.

According to Impacts of California’s Ongoing Drought: Agriculture – released by the Pacific Institute – California’s agriculture sector saw record-high crop revenue and employment, but this good news came at a price.

The report showed that “extensive and unsustainable amounts” of groundwater were drawn to combat the drought.

This means that future generations will have to dig deeper for water – a practice that is clearly unsustainable.

If another drought happens within the next decade, farmers may not have the water supply needed to combat the drought which could be disastrous for California’s immediate and future agriculture industry.

If weather conditions don’t stabilize or improve, then we could see food shortages and skyrocketing prices at the grocery store. But the problems don’t stop there.

Restaurants would have to increase their prices on fruit and vegetable dishes such as salads and smoothies, which means a night out could become twice as expensive.

If consumers can’t afford produce and avoid restaurants, our economy could suffer major loses.

Climate change means much more than just a few extra hot days in the summer. If we don’t clean up our act, we may see major food shortages in our future.

So share with us: what small changes can you do to slow climate change down?

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