I am not writing this article to create a political statement. Sometimes the facts are just facts. Even if you do not believe in global warming, statistics say that seven of the hottest years on this planet were in the last 10 years. The average global temperature in 1980 was 57.2°F and in 2015 the hottest year on record increased 1.8°F to 59°. This might not seem like a lot but it certainly makes a difference in agriculture and livestock cultivation.
You certainly can be aware of the difference in the weather patterns with the droughts that we’ve had in the last couple years. On a personal note I’ve been in Las Vegas 25 years and the last two Junes were definitely the hottest that I’ve experienced. Another sign of global warming is the increase in ocean evaporation, which has led to much bigger storms in the winter on the East Coast.
How does this affect the food supply?
We have the ability to adapt our growing of food and livestock to more drought-resistant products as has been witnessed the last 8,000 years in the Southwest. Many of the vegetables grown in the United States are grown in Yuma, Arizona which is watered by Lake Mead reservoir. The reservoir has suffered due to the drought since the year 2000 and in 2016 it was at its lowest level. Its volume reduction was due equally to the lack of rain as well as evaporation from the heat. Scientists predict that for every 1°C of warming, corn yield in the Midwest will be reduced by 6%. Also predicted, by the year 2050 we will see a decrease of around 15% and up to 50% by the year 2100.
This also affects livestock and poultry production because they have less feed but also due to heat stress and the length of time for an animal to be large enough to get to the slaughterhouse, and the heat stress also causes fertility problems. Humidity and heat are not good for most livestock. An additional factor is when the rains come they usually come torrentially, which erodes the soil destroying crops.
One way to deal with this is to find drought-friendly or -resistant plants to grow and breeds of animals that live well in the desert climates. One example is cows. Most ranchers in the west breed Hereford and Black Angus breeds, which are British and were bred in a country that has large amounts of rain and large amounts of grass. The advantage of these breeds is they bulk up quickly, but they do not do well in the drought-stricken Southwest of the United States. The solution is a Criollo breed which comes from Mexico, originally brought over from Spain. This breed has already been adapted to the dry environment and to naturally find ways to protect themselves from the high heat. They feed at night, which is unusual but gets them out of the daylight heat and they have learned to shelter themselves under trees during the day. The most amazing thing about these animals is that they’ve adapted to their environment and survive on mesquite, cacti and other desert plants as a food source.
What foods are affected?
50% of coffee plantation land will be unusable in 30 years. Cocoa trees that like the heat don’t like the dryness. As the ocean warms up we’re finding smaller hauls of oysters. Apples which require a certain number of days of winter chill are finding the 8+ days of frost in the Northeast a hindrance to their growing. In 30 years we might lose half of the bean production that we produce now. As it gets warmer, maple syrup which needs the cold weather has not been producing the level it used to in New England and has to move further north. The almond, a $4 billion industry in Northern California, is getting smaller and smaller due to the drought situation. Lobster harvesting has moved further north, leaving the Boston area into the Maine bays but that is going to become too warm for them as well. And wines from Napa Valley will be coming in short supply due to the heat.
What can you do?
If every American cut out meat one day a week it would be the equivalent of taking 16 million cars off the road annually. Agriculture is responsible for approximately 14% of greenhouse gases. There are 1 1/2 billion cows in the world and 1 billion other animals that create methane through belching and flatulence. Another way to fight this is by composting, which relates to an article I’ve written recently. This could save the equivalent of the production from 5.2 million cars annually. If we reuse water bottles it would be the equivalent of taking 2 million cars off the road annually. By eating organic, due to the lack of fertilizers needed would be the same as taking 710,000 cars off the road annually. If you have a big grass yard, convert some of it to a garden and that could save the equivalent of 161,000 cars.