Climate change is in the news a lot these days, blamed for everything from soaring temperatures to intensified hurricanes.
Experts warn of the far-reaching consequences of global warming for agriculture. For many, it’s hard to see the immediate effects of these changes, so some farmers only think of them in the vague future tense.
Others don’t have that luxury. They’re already dealing with an environmental shift that’s directly affecting their bottom lines.
Growers of these four crops are grappling with climate change.
In places like Michigan, apples used to thrive. They still do, thanks to experienced growers and a host of new agricultural technologies.
But it’s getting harder for orchard owners to profit from their crops. Spring comes earlier, increasing insect populations. Weather fluctuations have become more volatile, increasing the possibility of crop-destroying frost and storms.
Even if these threats stay under control, temperatures are rising, changing the coloration and texture of apples. In an industry obsessed with cosmetic appearance, that means diverting more of the harvest to low-margin outlets like juice, cider, and applesauce.
France has long been admired for the quality of its wine. Regions like Burgundy and Bordeaux set standards for wineries worldwide.
However, climate change has already significantly reshaped the map of ideal environments for growing in France. According to a recent NASA study, wine grapes flourish in cooler regions, where wetter springs, warm summers, and early, dry falls produce premium wines.
Temperatures are rising, precipitation patterns are fluctuating, and harvest dates are falling later these days, all of which have direct ramifications for quality and pricing. The spring cold snaps and historically hot summer this year probably won’t help this year’s production levels, though some experts say the quality of the wine might still be high.
The world’s favorite alcoholic beverage, beer, could get harder to produce and more expensive to buy.
Climate scientists released findings revealing that barley harvests could plunge 17%, with brewers passing on the rising cost of this crop on to the consumer. In Ireland alone, beer prices could double.
Growers insist they’ll adapt, using technology and drought-resistant varietals to crop in new areas as ways to cope with the new environmental challenges.
Beans of all kinds are a kind of wonder-crop. They’re cheap to grow, they’re nutritious, and they’re delicious. They’re also good for the soil, replenishing nutrients sapped from the ground by major crops like corn and wheat.
Although beans are pretty resilient, they’re challenged by climate change. Extreme temperatures and drought conditions have put a dent in bean harvests. Because beans are such a valuable source of protein, starch, and fiber in the developing world, crop losses to climate change could leave an increasing number of consumers food insecure.
Scientists are working with local growers to develop more drought-tolerant bean crops, and have encouraged growers to migrate to better bean-growing areas where possible.
For many farmers, climate change is a looming, indefinite threat to the future. But for growers of staples like apples, grapes, barley, and beans, there are already immediate effects. How we respond to these challenges will determine how viable these crops–and others like them–will be in our new environment.