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Climate Change Altering Global Fruit And Nut Industry

May 30, 2011

Researchers sat that climate change is expected to alter the global industry in fruits and nuts dramatically as tree crops like pistachios and cherries struggle in the rising temperatures.

The study found that even if polluters took more action to cut carbon emissions, the impact of climate change will likely be severe enough that the $100 billion-a-year fruit and nut industry needs to reassess planning.

Trees in temperate regions evolved to need a chilly period so they can grow in the spring.  The rising temperatures pose a problem for those regions.

The study, published in the scientific journal PLos ONE, expected fruit and nut trees to be highly affected in California, the southeastern U.S., China’s Yunnan province and southern and southwestern Australia.

The study said areas that have already seen the worst losses of winter chill include Israel, Morocco, Tunisia and the Cape region of South Africa.

Co-author Eike Luedeling of the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre told the AFP news agency that farmers making long-term investments need to realize quickly that fruits and nuts are more vulnerable than many other crops.

“If I’m growing wheat or maize, then from one year to the next I can decide whether to plant a little late or plant a little earlier or plant a different variety,” Luedeling said in a statement.

“But for trees, you can’t. Once you’ve made a decision to plant a certain crop, you’re locked in for 30 years,” he said.

He said the economic impact of climate change to fruits and nuts would depend on decisions being made now.

“If farmers wake up to the reality of climate change and start making these adjustments — switching to cultivars that are appropriate in the future, but not necessarily now yet — then the disruption to markets could be minimal,” he said.

“But if we don’t, if farmers believe they can keep doing what their grandfathers have done, then we will see some serious problems,” he said.

The study found climate change is forecast to have less impact on cooler temperate regions and the winter chill may actually increase in some colder regions.

Evan Girvetz, a senior climate scientist at The Nature Conservancy and co-author of the study, said cooler regions had a greater window for rising temperatures as they started out with more days of winter chill.

But many warmer areas are “already on that edge of not having enough cold temperatures during the winter for good fruit and nut production,” Girvetz said in a statement.

“They have years when you don’t have enough full production and as we move into the future, we are finding that that’s going to become more common,” he said.

He said even if the world cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions, “we are still projecting that the suitability for growing these crops is likely to decrease.”

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in a major report in 2007 forecast that the world would heat up by 3.2 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 compared with pre-industrial levels and that some damage was irreversible.

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