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

Australia Knights Prince Philip, Sparking National Outrage

Abbott's surprise reintroduction of knights and dames in the country's honors system last year drew criticism that he was out of touch with national sentiment More

SAG Award Boosts 'Birdman' Oscar Hopes

Individual acting Oscars appear to be sewn up: SAG awards went to artists who won Golden Globes: Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette, J.K. Simmons More

Katy Perry Lights Way for Super Bowl's Girl Power Moment

Pop star's selection to headline US football championship's halftime show extends NFL's trend of selecting artists who appeal to younger viewers 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.
Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sidesi
X
June Soh
January 23, 2015 10:03 PM
The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid