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Climate Change: why a warming planet may favour the farmer

28 Mar 2017

There is plenty of doom and gloom surrounding the phenomenon of global warming. Apart from the heated controversy of whether it is happening or not – or whether humans are purely the cause or not – it does highlight our responsibility and vulnerability when it comes to managing our livelihoods on this, the only home we know. 

Climate Change: why a warming planet may favour the farmer

There is evidence in the form of melting glaciers and rising seas, and unusual heat waves in places that don’t normally (or not in our time) experience these extreme conditions, and unruly patterns of turbulence around the globe. While the argument rages on as to why this is happening, a warmer climate has much to concern us, and conversely, much that may prove useful, specifically in regard to food production.

The biggest concern may be the shift of seasonal weather changes from areas where established farmers have traditionally expected rain or sunshine in fairly regular, dependable patterns. If rainfall has moved further north for instance, do you move your farm – or change what you’re growing? Despite these not insubstantial problems, the overall effect of a warmer planet on farming remains positive because a warmer climate does not necessarily mean drought but also life-giving rain. Growing anything in warmer rather than colder temperatures is much easier. 

Trouble is, we don’t know how much warmer it may get. Our planet has been messing around with its climate from as far back as we can see – and that’s millions of years. Temperatures during the Miocene, for instance, between 16 million and 14 million years ago, were 12 degrees warmer than today, followed by the Pliocene and its cooler but terrifying dry period of 12 million years – perhaps an inverted warning of the ice ages to follow...

Negatives of global warming

  • Glaciers in both the northern and southern poles would melt, resulting in rising tides changing life and habitats along coastal shores.
  • Drought is equally on the agenda, endangering both agriculture and animal life. 
  • Increased green house gases may actually change the composition of species in any given area, as well as bringing about changes to crop yields and water supply, along with higher production costs.

Positives of global warming on agriculture

  • Agriculture and forestry can be used to combat greenhouse gases. Greater tree and crop plantation will release more oxygen during the day while absorbing more CO2 at night – and the use of plants such as Aloe Vera, the Neem Tree and Orange Gerbera that are claimed to release oxygen both day and night, may have positive effect on an agricultural economy. A crop that will release the most oxygen in terms of per unit ground area covered by a single plant species, could be the cultivated corn (Zea mays).
  • While the economic effects of climate change on agriculture need to be assessed differently in dry land and well-irrigated areas, with today’s technical advancements in irrigation such as drip irrigation, plants can be grown successfully in water-scarce areas.
  • As global warming progresses, farmers may have to change their crops to those that have a better chance of growth and survival in a warmer climate. Grains such as wheat and soy which are less likely to grow in a warmer climate may have to be swopped for warm-weather plants such as: cotton, fruits, vegetables, rice, hay, and grapes – all of which have a greater propensity for heat.
  •  Genetic modification and engineering will help farmers to produce crops capable of growing more robustly and healthily in both warmer/drier or warmer/wetter climes.
  • In some instances, warming may produce an abundance of precipitation and sunlight, and even contribute to soil enrichment. 
  • The more greenery we are able to grow, the healthier the air will be because the chemicals dispensed by plants and agriculture help to recycle the greenhouse gases in the air. Thus farming more hardy strains is a way to decrease the effects of global warming.
  • It is significantly easier to grow plants in warmer temperatures than colder. Higher winter temperatures would positively impact agricultural value and profitability. Stronger growth stimulated by a warmer climate can increases crop yield and profit.
  • Global warming may well be the result of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – but interestingly plants thrive in areas with high carbon dioxide concentrations, and crops that absorb more carbon dioxide may grow larger and have increased yields.
  • Warmer climates also open up land for agricultural use in areas that were previously too cold for farming.

Positive effects in general

  • Even if the already alarming pace of global warming increases, we should still have time to adapt in a way that will benefit humanity.  
  • Across the world, there are more deaths from the cold in winter than deaths from the heat in summer. Winter temperatures especially impact the poor who cannot afford to heat their homes sufficiently. A rise of even a few degrees of temperature annually will mean a great saving on heating that will save lives and notably reduce medical costs.
  • In addition, we humans actually prefer it warmer, as evidenced by our holiday searches for warm places, and the fact that retirees tend to move to warmer climes.   
  • Global warming will open up wider areas for commercial fishing at higher latitudes.  
  • Areas previously closed to shipping will open up. The fabled Northwest Passage in northern Canada may become a reality, enabling a northern route from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Netafim and 21st century technology

At Netafim we are familiar with the drier side of things. Through constant vigilance and technological innovation, global warming may hold fewer fears for us than we think. The unpredictability of climate greatly motivates our passion for optimal food production and security. We have developed a number of successful techniques to help farmers cope with lack of rain – and we understand the nature of crops, soil, and preservation of the landscape. In fact, the world’s future depends precisely on this knowledge: where to find water and how to use it economically. It is the ongoing challenge that drives our business.  

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