Another week, another study about how climate change will wreak havoc on a vital crop. The latest bit of research to enter this increasingly crowded field, published today by Nature Climate Change, deals with how climate change and, more specifically, rising temperatures could affect wheat production. The skinny? It, unsurprisingly, could mean very bad things for pasta, bread, and beer.
Authored by dozens of scientists from around the world, the study analyzes a number of other studies predicting the future of global crops, as well as three different methods used to evaluate what impact temperature increases will have on wheat. In focusing on the effects of temperatures, the researchers excluded other factors like rising carbon-dioxide levels and changes in precipitation. The different techniques all pointed to a global temperature increase of 34 degrees Fahrenheit leading to a decline in wheat yield by 4.1 to 6.4 percent. That’s not an insignificant amount, as the world produces 700 million tons of wheat every year, and a 6.4 percent drop would slash that figure by 44,800,000 tons.
As with other crops, the impact will vary by region. The authors believe China, one of the world’s top wheat producers, will see a reduction of 3 percent per 34 degrees, while India, another major producer, will be hit harder and suffer an 8 percent drop. The study suggests that the warmest areas will be hit the hardest, and, as with a recent study about climate change and coffee, the authors warn that there need to be efforts toward adaption.
Still, it’s not entirely clear what’s going to happen. The studies analyzed by the authors became less consistent with each other above 34 degrees Fahrenheit as well at local and regional levels, and because temperature was the only factor the authors took into consideration, it wasn’t comprehensive. Climate change will introduce a host of changes to the world, and it’s possible that some will positively impact crop production in parts of the world. Rising carbon-dioxide levels might even positively affect the growth of certain plants, according to some research. As Senthold Asseng, one of the study’s authors and a University of Florida agricultural and biological engineering professor, explained, “some of the factors might bring these numbers down, other factors bring them up.” Wheat production will be affected, in other words, not just by temperatures, but by what happens when the cocktail of climate-change-induced factors gets mixed up.