Is the Future of Our Crops at Risk?

Vegetables from the local Athens, Georgia Kroger on Alps Road. ©Rachel Madray

As monthly high temperatures continue to rise across Georgia, local chefs and atmospheric scientists fear for the future of our local crops.

Local Athens, Georgia chef Wesley Guthrie likes to source all of his vegetables locally and has not had much trouble getting them in on time. However, there have been little changes in the prices of certain fruits such as limes.

“I can foresee climate change being more of a factor in the future,” said Guthrie, “but for now we are lucky that our temperate climate has protected most of our crops.”

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the world’s largest environmental groups, food prices are expected to rise anywhere from three to 84 percent by 2050. There is also a 15 percent average yield loss prediction in the next 25 years.

These predictions are made from the rising temperatures and droughts that many areas across the Unites States have experienced over the years. According to the scientists and experts at the  Environmental Defense Fund, farmers worldwide are struggling to keep up with the shifting weather patterns. Due to these higher temperatures, crops are facing more attacks from weeds, diseases and pets, causing the average yields to decrease.

 The federal government’s own experts at the Environmental Protection Agency, warn that the United States agriculture is sensitive to climate change, which is creating less than optimal soil temperatures for crops grown during the warmer months of March to October.

According to Gardening: Know How, some crops that grow during these months such as tomatoes, cucumbers and snap peas begin to grow successfully around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Other crops that grow during the warmer months such as watermelon, peppers, squash, okra, cantaloupe and sweet potatoes grow during the warmer temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

When comparing these optimal growing temperatures to that of the average monthly highs from Athens and the Atlanta area, it shows that these crops are growing in higher temperatures than is best for their survival.

According to Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Director of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Georgia, crop production is not the only thing farmers and those who rely on the food industry need to be concerned with.

“In terms of temperature,” said Dr. Shepherd, “we are starting to see changes in temperature in all of the seasons. And one of the really interesting things we see with this abnormal warmth is that it shortens the seasons in a since that you start seeing things bloom faster, trees grow faster and plants growing faster, and that starts to effect agriculture productivity.”

In 2012, Dr. Shepherd testified in front of the Senate in regards to a really bad drought we were experiencing. The drought was so bad that barges could not get down the Mississippi River because the water level was so low. These barges were carrying things like wheat, corn and other crops that make our everyday foods like our Cheerieo’s, bread and popcorn.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, adaptation measures such as changes in crop selection, field management and use of technology could potentially reduce some of the negative impacts due to climate change that farmers are seeing now and will likely see more of in the future.

-Rachel Madray

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