Spring 2012

Dialogue | News reports suggest global warming is hurting coffee production. How could it affect other crops?

Many agricultural crops are sensitive to a variety of climatic factors, and crop yield and quality can suffer significantly when these conditions change. In Costa Rica, production of coffee (the country’s third largest export) has dropped 44 percent since 2000, due in part to a 2.5 percent per decade increase in warm days since the 1970s. Other crops such as apples require a certain number of “chill hours” in winter for optimal bud formation; according to a UCS report, Pennsylvania may achieve minimum chill-hour requirements for apples in only 50 percent of winters at mid-century if global warming emissions continue unabated. Increasing temperatures can also shift the habitat range of destructive crop pests, leading to greater use of herbicides and pesticides that are not only costly but also pose risks to human and environmental health.

Precipitation is another important factor in crop production, and one that is vulnerable to extremes under a changing climate. Increased drought can require traditionally rain-fed crops to be irrigated, increasing costs and placing additional strain on local water supplies. Conversely, extreme rainfall and flooding can reduce—or even eliminate—a crop’s yield. Arkansas and Mississippi, for example, incurred a total of $1.3 billion in agricultural damage after the Mississippi River flooded last spring.

To ensure a reliable and healthy food system, we must take action today to reduce heat-trapping emissions. Learn more about coffee and climate.


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