A newly released study finds that wheat crop yields could plunge due, in part, to global warming.
In a study published in Nature Climate Change, researchers warn that current projections based on computer models underestimate the extent to which hotter weather in the future will accelerate this process. Extreme heat can cause wheat crops to age faster and reduce yields, the Stanford University-led study shows, underscoring the challenge of feeding a rapidly growing population as the world warms.
The study finds that grain losses upwards of 20 percent could occur, possibly plaguing a number of nations with higher than average rates of poverty.
Two-thirds of wheat in poor countries, and 23 per cent in rich countries – nearly half the world’s total crop – is at risk from warming. Previous estimates suggested that by 2050, warming could cut wheat yields by 30 per cent in places like India – a figure that may now be optimistic. Yet global yields need to rise 50 per cent by then to feed the growing population.
“What’s new here is better understanding of one particular mechanism that causes heat to hurt yields,” said lead author of the study, David Lobell in a statement to Reuters. “We decided to see if these senescence effects are actually occurring in farmers’ fields, and if so whether they are big enough to matter. On both counts, the answer is yes.”
The study is the latest to focus on the potential effects of global warming. A number of studies have been commissioned in recent months, as progress on reducing emissions of global warming gases have largely failed.
Wheat, which is harvested in temperate zones on more than 220 million hectares, is the most widely grown crop on Earth. The results of the newly published study do not present the possible ramifications of such a catastrophe, however, results suggest that losses could be sooner and greater.