Global warming threatens US$3 billion crops

The US agriculture industry could experience a doubling in crop damage losses of US$3 billion by 2030 due to ‘extreme precipitation events’ spurred by global warming, predict US scientists.

In a study performed by researchers from NASA, Columbia University, New York University and Environmental Defense, a computer climate and crop model simulation was used to investigate the impact of increased rainfall, due to climate change, on crops – an area where research was felt to be lacking in the study of global warming impacts.

Precipitation events, including flooding, hail and snow, as well as completely destroying the crop can lead to increases in plant disease and insect infestation, and may debilitate machinery hindering the sowing and harvesting of the plants, says the report.

Currently the industry, dealing mainly in corn and maize but also wheat, cotton, soybean and potato, is down US$1.5 billion a year on average from rain related weather – exemplified by disasters such as the 1997 North Dakota Red River Floods costing US$1 billion. The findings say excess soil moisture, in addition to flooding, will attack crops.

The research predicts that rainy weather will increase by 30% by 2030 bringing the damage bill to US$3 billion, by 2090 precipitation events are likely to rise to 65% of today’s conditions.

“Aggressive action to slow climate change must be taken now to lessen the risk of increased flooding over agricultural areas in the United States and the significant increases in crop damage and economic losses that could result,” said co-author Janine Bloomfield, a senior scientist at Environmental Defense.

Impingements on federal and state government resources and insurance companies could also occur if events are to follow as predicted, as farmers seek compensation from crop insurance. Between 1981 and 2000, US Federal Crop Insurance Corporation pay outs reached $US 21 billion, says the report.

The Corn Belt states, which produce 85% of US corn, are likely to be mostly affected by these findings, including Nebraska, Illinois, North and South Dakota and Wisconsin.

“The longer we wait to take aggressive action to slow climate change, the more costly and damaging the impacts are likely to be,” Francesco Tubiello co-author of the paper told edie. “We hope that the government will take this [research] into account so that appropriate climate change policies can be developed,” she added.

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