Report outlines climate change effects on US food production

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Climate change, Greenhouse gas

Climate change is already affecting American food production, according to a report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), released to coincide with the Copenhagen climate change summit.

The report, The Effects of Climate Change on US Ecosystems,​ draws on a scientific assessment project commissioned by the US Global Change Research Program released last year, as well as more recent findings to provide additional detail.

It states: “Climate change has had an impact on American farmers, ranchers, rural land owners, and foresters, and will continue to do so, through its influence on production, distribution, and yields.”

In particular, the report claims potential crop failure for grains and oilseeds if temperatures and CO2 levels rise, and smaller fruits and grains as a result of higher night-time temperatures – but extended potential area for perennial crops in the north of the country. However, it cautions against optimism, saying that risk of frost damage would increase because plants would start to grow earlier in the spring.

Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said: "Climate change poses significant threats and challenges for farmers, ranchers, and those who make a living off the land, which will have a serious impact on our ability to feed the people of the United States and the world.”

The report details a number of other areas for concern, including a possibility that glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide in the US, could lose its efficacy on weeds that grow at increased CO2 levels; as well as problems with providing sufficient nutritious animal feed due to disruptions in plants’ nitrogen and carbon cycle leading to lower protein levels in forage.

Vilsack added: "President Obama has made climate change one of his top domestic priorities and under his Administration, the United States has done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than at any other time in history, both by supporting domestic policies that advance clean energy, climate security, and economic recovery; and by vigorously engaging in international climate negotiations."

Commenting on the report, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) said that biotech could play an important role in increasing agricultural production in the States, despite the challenges of a changing climate.

Executive vice president for food and agriculture at BIO Sharon Bomer Lauritsen said: "Our member companies have been developing environmental stress tolerance traits (plants that are naturally tolerant to extreme cold, heat, drought, saline soil, diseases and insect pests) for the past decade, and many of these are poised for commercialization. The pending authorization of these products couldn't be more timely given the challenges facing farmers.”

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