Agriculture and climate change … its complicated

Winter Trees at Sunset

Climate change is already affecting what we grow, eat, and drink. The contribution of agriculture and the impacts are complicated and anyone could be confused. Surrounding climate change and agriculture are terms like ‘food miles’, ‘soil carbon’, ‘carbon farming’, ‘carbon footprint’, and so on… Added to the mix are debates on which foods, drinks, agricultural practices, etc. contribute more or less to greenhouse gas emissions.

Simply stated, agriculture contributes to climate change. For some countries agriculture is their largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture contributes to climate change through practices such as land clearing for crops and livestock, soil erosion, raising livestock, rice production, petrochemical inputs and large-scale machine-intensive processes.

The impacts of climate change are already being felt in increasing average minimum and maximum temperatures and decreasing rainfall. Warmer winter mornings might sound great. But it is not so great for delicious produce such as cherries and apples that need a certain number of chill hours. The increasing frequency and duration of heatwaves, as well as increased storm events also wreak havoc on planting, growth, harvesting times and distribution.Then there is the changing distribution and abundance of agricultural pests and diseases. Climate change is even impacting aquaculture as increasing sea levels, water temperatures and ocean acidification take a toll on individual species to entire ecosystems.

The next article in this series will examine the impact of climate change on honey. But so not to conclude on a low note, it should be stated that agriculture can adapt, some farmers are already doing so, and available are current agricultural practices that are more sustainable and climate-friendly. These are often local, smaller scale and seasonal practices supported by avenues such as our own Harvest Launceston and other farmers’ markets.

 

– Author: Dr Meghan Bond