Climate change is affecting your crops


Hunter Berube

Suffolk Climate Watch graphic

NASA research shows that extreme weather such as droughts, heat waves and rainfall patterns affect crop production. As the Earth continues to warm, these weather changes are becoming more problematic.

According to the USDA, these extreme impacts create sensitivity toward agriculture, which can create inconsistent effects of profit and crop production. In the past century, areas such as the Midwest have experienced climate change through shifts in rainfall patterns and higher temperatures.

“We are seeing shorter and earlier growth seasons,” said Dr. Hayley Schiebel. “For example, apple picking in the Boston area is a few weeks earlier than usual and if you want good apples, you better go quickly!” 

The Midwest specifically has seen impacts on vegetable, grain and fruit production, according to the USDA. With these crops continuing to fight against a changing climate, they can respond differently and at various times. 

Carbon dioxide is the most prominent greenhouse gas to increase Earth’s temperature, according to NASA. Fossil fuels can stay in the atmosphere for centuries, meaning carbon dioxide from hundreds of years prior remains there today.

High levels of carbon dioxide can create plant growth, as it can behave as a fertilizer, according to NASA. However, every crop receives a different amount of gains. For instance, wheat benefits more than corn does.

A case study looks at Yolo County agriculture using 60 years of farm acreage and a century of climate research. According to the University of California, researchers used specific crops in their study such as wheat, rice, tomatoes, walnuts and fruits. 

In Yolo County, warmer winters can lead to an increase in tomato and a decrease in wheat, according to the University of California. For areas with trees, walnuts are proven to be the most sensitive to climate change, as they require cooler temperatures and can experience a decline in acreage. 

“We are seeing more severe droughts or storm events depending on where you live,” said Schiebel. “These factors make food scarcity more prevalent.”

With high temperatures increasing in tropical areas, heat stress can be experienced by all crops. According to NASA, when temperatures reach 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (32 to 35 degrees Celsius), agriculture can begin to feel stressed. This can mostly be seen through wilting, which is caused by water loss.

Additionally, these temperature changes can affect crop life cycles, according to NASA. A plant’s life cycle can advance with increases in temperatures in the growing season. This can mean less sunlight is collected and fewer leaves are created, which can ultimately lead to smaller crop yields.