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article imageGlobal warming will cut wheat yields in U.S. say researchers

By Karen Graham     May 12, 2015 in Environment
Wheat is a staple in most households, literally the “bread of life” in every country that grows wheat. Globally, wheat provides 20 percent of daily protein and calories. By 2050, we are going to need a lot more wheat to feed a growing world.
Global warming, adverse weather conditions and rising sea levels continue to plague our planet, and agriculture scientists and researchers around the world are working to understand the possible or probable impacts to crop production.
The Wheat Initiative, launched by G20 agricultural ministers, says, “With a world population of 9 billion in 2050, wheat demand is expected to increase by 60 percent. To meet the demand, annual wheat yield increases must grow from the current level of below one percent to at least 1.6 percent," according to the Washington Post.
This estimated increased demand is extremely troubling, based on current research, particularly in the United States and possibly elsewhere. Scientists have been able to increase the average yield in the amount of wheat grain a farmer can get from a given field, seeing increases by as much as one percent each year, and this is amazing. But with climate change giving us adverse conditions to grow wheat, we may be in trouble.
A group of researchers from Mississippi State University, Kansas State University and the University of Arkansas found evidence that wheat production in the U.S. will decline in the years ahead because of global warming. The trio of researchers found their study provided insights into wheat breeding, public policy and decision making as it relates to agricultural methods in the future.
They found that in key wheat growing regions in the U.S., the effects of temperature exposure varies during the main growing season, from September to May. They studied data on crop yields, weather, and temperatures from 1985 through 2013. They found the greatest drivers of decreased yield occurred with freezing temperatures in the fall and excessive heat events in the spring.
In the report, the researchers wrote: "We also find that the overall effect of warming on yields is negative, even after accounting for the benefits of reduced exposure to freezing temperatures." They also found that modern strains of wheat that have been developed are actually more vulnerable to changes in temperature than older varieties.
What does this say for the future of wheat production? We need a better understanding of the type of wheat seed needed to withstand extremes of weather, and public policy needs to take a front seat in seeing that research and development goes forward. It will take a concerted effort by farmers and extension agents, working with seed companies to make any changes to the possible outcome.
This study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 12,2015 under the title: Effect of warming temperatures on US wheat yields
More about us wheat production, Global warming, New research, weather extremes, heat stress
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