News / Science & Technology

Russia's Damaged Wheat: a Glimpse of the Future?

Climate change may affect prices for rice and other staple food crops
Climate change may affect prices for rice and other staple food crops

Multimedia

Audio

As Russian wheat withers under a record-breaking heat wave, driving up grain prices on global commodity markets, a new study shows rice production, too, has suffered in recent decades from rising temperatures.

Experts say it may be the latest warning of how climate change in some key farming regions could threaten world food supplies.

In the new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers examined six years of data from 227 farms in six major rice-producing countries in Asia. They looked at how rice production varied depending on the weather, and extrapolated those effects over the past quarter-century.

They found that "higher nighttime temperatures lead to lower yield," says lead author Jarrod Welch at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

Hot nights in Louisiana

In the southern U.S. state of Louisiana, the nation's third-largest producer of rice, hot nighttime temperatures have made the plants susceptible to a bacterial disease. Rice farmer Clarence Berken says yields are off by 25 to 30 percent in some of his fields.

"Especially in a year like this year, when [the price] for our crop is about half of what it was two years ago, and input costs have basically stayed the same," he says, "it's really something that's worrisome."

There may be more to worry about in the future for Berken and rice farmers around the world, because nighttime temperatures are predicted to rise faster with climate change than daytime temperatures. Welch says the negative impact on productivity could make rice more expensive in the future.

"The numbers of people that depend on rice are astronomical," he says. "Something like 3 billion people eat rice every day. Six hundred million or so depend on it as their staple food. And those 600 million are among the world's poorest billion."

All major crops affected

Rice consumers aren't the only ones put at risk by rising temperatures. Last fall, another major study looking at U.S. maize, soybean and cotton production showed that yields go down for each day a crop is exposed to temperatures above a certain threshold. Depending on how fast the climate warms this century, the study predicted crop yield declines from 30 to 80 percent.

The current run-up in wheat prices caused by Russia's heat-damaged harvest may be a glimpse into the future, according to Lester Brown, head of the Washington-based think tank, the Earth Policy Institute.  

"This has been sort-of a textbook lesson in the effect of rising temperature on grain yields," he says. "If you're an agronomist, if you're someone concerned about future food security, you have to worry about that projected possible rise in temperature."

Weather cycle

But many U.S. farmers like Clarence Berken in Louisiana are not convinced that we're headed for a hotter future.

"We've had heat waves in the past, and that will come and go," he says. "I think it's more cyclical than anything else."

He adds that whatever the future holds, the Louisiana State University research station is constantly developing new rice varieties that help him adapt to changing conditions.

"It used to take 10 years to come out with a variety. And now we've cut that basically in half," he adds. "The research station does an excellent job of doing those kinds of things that basically have kept us in business."

"There are limits"

Research into improving crop yields has always been the key to meeting the world's food needs, says Nina Fedoroff, a plant scientist at Penn State University and former advisor to the U.S. State Department.

But she says it's unequivocal that the climate is getting hotter, and "there are limits to what our current crops can do."

She says today's commercial crops have evolved in a temperate climate and there is only so much breeders can do to adapt them to a hotter, drier environment.

"The breeding for drought resistance, for example, will not create crops that are significantly more productive than the ones we have today. They will be crops that suffer less of a beating when there's a spell of high temperature," she says.

Scientists will need to create crops that are significantly more productive because the world's population is expected to grow nearly 50 percent by mid-century. Fedoroff says major changes – perhaps including the introduction of entirely new crops and methods of production – will be needed to meet the challenges.

Scientists have made huge productivity gains before, and they could do it again. But Fedoroff notes that despite the urgent needs, crop research remains seriously underfunded.

"In principle, the doom and gloom doesn't have to happen," she says. "In practice, will we actually rearrange our priorities enough to prevent it? I don't know."

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid