Science

New study indicates dramatic fall-off in global crop yields by the year 2050

New study indicates dramatic f...
A new study predicts that global crop yields could fall by up to ten percent in the next 36 years (Photo: Shutterstock)
A new study predicts that global crop yields could fall by up to ten percent in the next 36 years (Photo: Shutterstock)
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A new study predicts that global crop yields could fall by up to ten percent in the next 36 years (Photo: Shutterstock)
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A new study predicts that global crop yields could fall by up to ten percent in the next 36 years (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new study has examined the potentially disastrous implications that a combination of global warming and air pollution could have on crop yields by the year 2050. The research is one of the first projects to take into account a combination of the two dangers, and highlights the humanitarian crisis that could arise should the threat not be tackled head-on.

The study, carried out by researchers from MIT, the University of Hong Kong and Colorado State University, focuses on four major crops that represent over half the calories consumed by the global population – rice, wheat, corn, and soy. It estimates that global crop yields will drop by around 10 percent by the year 2050 due to global warming, however the damaging effects of air pollution may be harder to quantify due to the difficulty in differentiating it from other damaging phenomenon.

For example, an estimated 46 percent of damage to soy crops previously believed to have been caused by global warming was reportedly actually due to air pollution. However, whilst the two phenomenon damage the crops in their own right, they are also inextricably linked. The rising temperatures caused by global warming is itself the catalyst that leads to an increase in the creation of plant-damaging ozone.

Furthermore, the study highlights that while individually air pollution or global warming would be damaging to global food production capabilities, together they pose a much greater threat, working in concert to detrimentally affect a much wider range of crops than either one could harm on its own. For example, corn crops are very susceptible to damage from heat created as a result of global warming, but less affected by ozone. Wheat on the other hand suffers in completely the opposite manner, and is easily damaged via interaction with polluted air.

According to the study, the effects of the damage will differ significantly by region. This is as a result of the type of crop present in that area, combined with the clean-air safeguards put in place by individual nations. For example, America has passed stringent air quality regulations, which it is predicted will limit the effects of the damage to crop output.

Whilst scientific advances are being made focusing on improving crop yield and quality, the fact remains that food production and distribution is still inefficient in dealing with undernourishment in less developed countries. The food shortage in Africa will only be exacerbated under current trends, with the study predicting an increase in undernourishment on the continent from 18 to 27 percent.

The end message is that world leaders must take the potential reduction in food production seriously, as they consider national air pollution and food security policy. A ten percent drop in crop yields, compounded by the unquantifiable damage caused by air pollution by the year 2050, is untenable at a time when we are predicted to need to produce 50 percent more food simply to sustain our planet's burgeoning global population.

Source: MIT

32 comments
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
I guess we all need to become vegetarians. That, or burn more rainforests for more arable land. Seriously though, I see more and more young people around me turning to eating less meat for health and environmental reasons. Insect farms will spring up everywhere as that will steadily become more of a source of protein for people. Seaweed will be grown in coastal regions and be incorporated more of as a staple food like in Asia. It requires no arable land, no water, no fertilizer and is healthy.
Paul van Dinther
Stick to facts guys. There is enough wishful Armageddon thinking out there. 1 there isn't any warming 2 Greenland would make a great farm 3 they nitpick on miniscule factors ignoring warming benefits to plants (greenhouses are build to aid plant growth) 4 increased CO2 is great for plant growth 5 GM and shifts in eating habits are always possible Typical GW scare report with a narrow focus. Stick to facts and science please.
Bruce Schuck
The Dumb Farmer Syndrome assumes all farmers are stupid and that if the climate changes they will keep trying to grow the same crop forever instead of just adapting to the new climate. In fact, if temperatures were to actually climb, farming could take place further norther and in the warmest regions more tropical type crops would be grown.
Kevin Murphy
Mr. Paul van Dinther----- In regards to your post, I would like you to back up your statements with factual based research as well... 1. Can you show me results that imply CO2 isn't on the rise and that it hasn't been due to human abuse of the land? In turn doesn't increased levels of CO2 lead to increases of temperature (Most of the light energy from the sun is emitted in wavelengths shorter than 4,000 nanometers (.000004 meters). The heat energy released from the earth, however, is released in wavelengths longer than 4,000 nanometers. Carbon dioxide doesn't absorb the energy from the sun, but it does absorb some of the heat energy released from the earth. When a molecule of carbon dioxide absorbs heat energy, it goes into an excited unstable state. It can become stable again by releasing the energy it absorbed. Some of the released energy will go back to the earth and some will go out into space. So in effect, carbon dioxide lets the light energy in, but doesn't let all of the heat energy out, similar to a greenhouse.) 2. I assume you are attempting humor with your Greenland statement so I'll disregard your bandaid solution as a joke 3. I was wondering if you could list the "benefits" to plants regarding increased levels of CO2 4. The basic plant food argument is that since plants need CO2 to grow, more CO2 means, by proxy, more sustained and robust plant growth globally. A quick look at the science behind this argument demonstrates its inherent weaknesses. In closed, controlled environments, like greenhouses and plant nurseries, an increase in CO2 does indeed spur plant growth. However, the globe is not a controlled environment, and it’s incredible sensitivity to a variety of factors is something that is often taken for granted when such narrow arguments are proffered. A rise in CO2 levels is not the only consequence of climate change, and it is these other effects that have had and will have more abiding adverse effects on plant growth around the world. While CO2 is an important element that stimulates plant growth, the planet's flora requires a cocktail of elements to maintain its health. Arguably the most important of these elements is water. With the global increase in temperature caused by the various factors affecting our climate's balance, increased evaporation means decreased soil moisture. Another effect of global climate change is erratic precipitation patterns. This causes extreme weather in certain geographic locations only sporadically, with overall, balanced rainfall drastically reduced. 5. "Shifts in eating habits are always possible" what are you getting at with this statement? If we are shifting our eating habits isn't that proof that our unsustainable living habits have caught up to us, which contradicts your argument?
b@man
Absolute BS. We are in a cooling period. The warmest year was 1930. Recent discoveries have revealed lies and distortions in the reporting. NOAA has been falsifying temperatures. The whole concept was a lie from the beginning and now we know that, but the liars and deceivers are still pumping out the lie for personal gain. Warming increases yields, If yields decrease it will be because of cooling. We have all had quite enough of the man made warming lie. It's time to put that BS behind us and move on.
Wally3178
I'm sorry, I can't accept any of this at all, its rubbish. When today, they can't make annual crop forecasts with any degree of accuracy, how can they now pop up and tell us what it will be like in 2050? Meteorologists and greenies are the worst offenders, telling us what the climate will be like in 50 years when they can't even get the forecast for next Tuesday right.
Daishi
Warming may be more tolerable for crops in the coldest climates but that's also not where people tend to live. It took just 39 years for the world population to double from 3 to 6 billion: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/Population-doubling.svg The UN growth projections are based on declining growth rates and put the 2050 population at ~9.6 billion but hopefully they are right because if it were closer to 13 billion we would have some issues. The downside to the UN prediction is as poor countries become industrialized (leading to their slower growth rate) their energy usage per person also climbs to something closer to the rest of the industrialized world. We are already over-consuming many of the worlds resources. We already have mass deforestation, over fishing, wildlife extinction etc.
Daishi
@Wally3178 day to day changes are harder to predict than overall trends. This is related: www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBdxDFpDp_k
Graham R
If this is true, the obvious solution is to increase CO2 levels to stimulate plant growth - 2000pmm might be a good target;) ... or grow other crops that prefer the warmer weather. Don't take me (or this article) too seriously.
BeWalt
Hahahahaha...some earlier comments I'm reading here make it clear that not only 1) humans most definitely *will* die out in the near future, in a self-inflicted way - but also 2) the human race most definitely *deserves* to die out. This is totally reminiscent of Monty Python's movie "Erik the Viking", the scene in which Atlantis is sinking and its inhabitants sit atop the last bits sticking out of the water, and are denying that it's sinking at all. And the last denier only stops when water gets into his mouth. Yes, that's how it's gonna be! The Fox News guy gets to turn the lights off, blaming the end on "greenies" and "communists". But it's all good, hey: We are just another dead evolutionary end. A short fart. Something smarter than us will arise.