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IPCC report what it means for farmers and growers

1st Apr 2014

Yesterday, (31st March) an international group of climate scientists working for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report which explains how climate change will affect the world and what we will need to do to adapt to it.

The new report which was released yesterday explains how climate change is already contributing to the problems we are facing including the issues of flooding, food supply and species migration and extinction.  It details that the effects of climate change will be severe and irreversible, and its impacts will be far reaching.

However it is not all doom and gloom.  If we are proactive and take adaptive action now, we can affect the risks of climate change throughout the 21st century and the degree to which our farm businesses feel the effects.

The report sets out the issues and adaptive options for a wide range of ecosystems and industries including agriculture and food production.  The main risks for agriculture moving forward are summarised below.

Impacts of climate change on food production the key facts

Background and the current situation

The impacts of climate change on food systems are expected to be widespread, complex, geographically and temporally variable and will be influenced by socio economic conditions.  Despite this, efforts to increase food production are increasingly important as 60% more food will be needed by 2050.

The effects of climate change on crop and food production are evident in several areas of the world

Over the last few years, globally we have experienced several periods of rapid food and cereal price rises following extreme weather events in key producing regions.  This shows how sensitive our current markets are to climate extremes.

Negative yield impacts are forecast for all crops past 3˚C of local warming without adaptation

There is scientific evidence that changes in CO₂ levels and ozone levels in the atmosphere have differing effects on cropping systems, including some beneficial effects.  More work is needed into the specifics of differing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and ozone, but the consensus is, that if the climate warms by 3 degrees, then the impacts will be negative and impact on yields.

Changes in climate and CO₂ concentration will enhance the distribution and increase the competitiveness of invasive weeds

Evidence is pointing towards the fact that the geographical ranges of pests and diseases will be increased, meaning that farmers will have to adapt to more threats from agronomic weeds, pests and diseases.  This is also happening at the same time that the environmental impact of chemical use is being explored, and in the future, we may have less options available to use as part of a control strategy.

All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change including food access, utilisation and price stability

The extreme weather conditions and the increase in temperature will increase the variability of crop yields in many regions.  Without adaptation, local temperature increases in excess of about 1˚C above is projected to have negative effects on yields for the major crops in tropical and temperate regions.

Changes in temperature and rainfall without considering the effects of CO₂ will contribute to increased global food prices by 2050 with estimated increases ranging from 3 – 84%.

This highlights the need for us as farmers to ensure that our production systems so that they are as resilient as possible, and we are insulated against external price rises.  The benefits in yield terms of adapting crop management is equivalent to a 15-18%.

Adaptation in livestock production will be strengthened by adoption of multi – led adaptive strategies to minimise negative impacts

There are a range of methods that livestock producers can use to help adapt to climate change, including using breeds of livestock that are better adapted to the climate and matching stocking rates with pasture production.  There is also the issue of increased pests and disease pressures.  For example climate change facilitated the rapid spread of bluetongue virus into Europe.  Ticks that carry zoonotic diseases have also likely changed distribution as a consequence of past climatic trends.

A range of potential adaptation options exist across all food systems activities, not just in food production but also innovations in food processing, packaging, transport, storage and trade are insufficiently researched.

Farmers and researchers are therefore at the forefront of finding new and innovative ways of adapting to the effects of climate change.  As food producers we are on the front line of adapting to the extreme weather events and trying to find ways of making our businesses more resilient and sustainable.  We may well be forging ahead of the current research as it is the practical application that is our reality every day.

Potential adaptation methods that the report advocates moving forward

The main recommendation is that we need to look at embedding these adaptive tecniques in wider farm systems. The FCCT Toolkit provides more detail on some of these methods.

Cropping systems

  • Flexibility in planting dates and varieties according to seasonal conditions
  • Breeding drought tolerant crops
  • Improving cultivar tolerance to high temperatures
  • Improved water use efficiency
  • Diversification of cropping

Livestock systems

  • Matching stocking rates with pasture production
  • Adjusting water management
  • Managing diet quality (considering the use of legumes, forage quality and pasture fertility management)
  • More effective use of silage
  • More suitable breeds
  • Biosecurity issue and monitoring of pests and disease incidences

To read the report please click here