Food Growing in a Changing Climate

Individuals, Farmers, Policymakers, Teagasc

It is widely accepted in the scientific community that, even if there were no further increase in greenhouse gas emissions, there will be some inevitable changes in our climate due to historical emissions since the beginning of the industrial revolution. As a result, most countries are taking adaption measures. Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. Well planned, early adaptation action can save money and in the long term save lives.

Obviously, climate adaption is especially important in food production. There is a great deal of research being carried out on future scenarios in Ireland and abroad. This research needs to continue and be expanded. There is consensus in the scientific community of the likely future impacts, negative and positive. Some of the impacts relating to food are listed here:

• The total economic cost of climate change in agriculture is projected to be in the region of €1-€2 billion annually.

• As global temperatures increase the range of insects impacting on agriculture is expected to expand. The response may contribute to an increase in use of harmful pesticides, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

• As the level of CO2 (carbon dioxide) increases in the atmosphere, plant growth is enhanced. This is called carbon dioxide fertilisation. This will have a mainly positive impact on yields.

• Grain exports from Ireland could increase as other parts of the world are projected to experience significant decreases in crop yields due to climate change induced aridity.

• Crops that are sensitive to higher temperatures will not do well.

• Crop yield could increase or decrease dependent upon the crop/variety response to the projected change (e.g. yield
• response to heat/drought/water logging stress).

• Plants and animals are more stressed by increased frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts and flooding.

• Price of pig meat set to rise significantly as cereals account for 75% of pig feed.

• It is likely that rainfall patterns will change. Nationally, winter rainfall is expected to increase by 10% by 2050 and 11-17% by 2080 and summer rainfall is expected to reduce by 12-17% by 2050 and 14-25% by 2080. Much worse summer reductions are expected near southern and eastern coasts of Ireland.

• As the world warms, lengthier heatwaves and fewer frost days are expected.

• August temperatures may increase by 2-3°C by 2050 with 6-7°C possible by the end of the century.

• Significant increases in water demand for irrigation is predicted.

• Potato yields to drop and wheat and beet yields to increase significantly.

• Aridity to increase by 40% in the 2020’s, 80% in the 2050’s and 120% in the 2080’s.

• Increased impact from of pathogens such as viruses such as the blue tongue virus and African Horse sickness.

• Some native species will likely become extinct and it is likely that more invasive, exotic (non-native) species will migrate to Ireland and can have a detrimental effect on native biodiversity.

• A number of potential positive and negative impacts are included from two reports: (author Dr. Stephen Flood, Research Associate, ICARUS, NUI Maynooth) and the other commissioned by the EPA (prepared by NUI Maynooth). Much Irish Climate expertise centralised at ICARUS in NUI Maynooth and focuses not only on Climate Science but on adaptation to a climate changed world. Many of these adaptations are in the link

Disclaimer: the above reports focus more on what is currently considered as conventional farming practices which are questioned on sustainability grounds elsewhere in this document.