Even the world’s biggest economy is not spared from climate change’s devastating impacts.
The USA Today article “Weird weather hit cattle ranchers and citrus growers in 2022. Why it likely will get worse” covers how the series of weird weather and extreme events in America hurt their current agriculture yields and have implications on the future availability of food and prices.
The country was hit by several extreme weather events this year, from devastating floods, severe hurricanes, intense heat, droughts, and massive rains that have directly impacted farmers (Weise, 2022).
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that over a dozen climate disaster events in the United States cost the economy over $1 billion in losses. Despite having an excellent overall harvest, some crops have been severely impacted.
“In Texas, the cotton harvest was hit hard by drought. Hurricane Ian blew oranges off the trees in Florida. Rice farmers in California have left fields empty for lack of water, and cattle ranchers are sending more cows to slaughter because drought-stunted pastures can’t support normal calving activity.”
“Climate change can’t be directly blamed for every bad harvest or extreme weather event this year, but the effects of climate change – including drought and rainier hurricanes – hurt harvests across the nation in 2022. Climate models make clear more is coming.”
The erratic weather or “weather weirding” that the US has been experiencing is the pattern that climate scientists have been warning about for decades, according to the article.
And although farmers get more innovative and more resilient with their farming methods, the constant need to adapt to extreme variability gets more stressful.
Due to the mega-drought in the West – this year is the worst in 1200 years; it has left 7% of the total croplands unplanted due to a lack of water for irrigation. Rice fields in the state relying on surface water were the most challenging hit – half of the state’s rice acres were empty, according to the USDA.
In Florida, some citrus farms sustained heavy losses when Hurricane Ian hit. A farm owned by John Matz has half of its citrus blown off the ground. The loss does not stop there as the full extent of the damage from standing water on the roots of the plants could be seen in eight months to a year.
In Texas, droughts have pushed ranchers to cull more cows. Dry conditions mean there is not enough grass for cattle, and buying feed becomes more expensive. Beef slaughter is up 13% nationwide, and in Texas, up to 30%. Slaughtering many heifers expected to give birth in the next few years will affect future meat supplies. In the short-term, beef prices will be much lower due to massive culling, but in the long term, it can mean higher prices.
Due to the droughts, the cotton harvest in Texas has decreased by at least a third. The state usually produces an average of 6 million bales a year. This year, they only harvested less than 4 million bales. The abandonment rate, acres of land ploughed down because the seeds never germinated, was also up 68%, which is a record.
California’s almond plantations also suffered a blow this year with the unseasonable freeze in February that killed some fruit forming. The mega-drought has left farmers choosing the trees that could get watered to produce. The United States makes 82% of the world’s almonds, with the bulk coming from California. The article notes that this year’s harvest was down 11%, with production dropping to as much as 2.6 billion pounds.
Preparation is vital to coping with climate change effects in future farming.
If not for plant breeding, things could have gotten much worse, says Paul Mitchell, a professor of agriculture and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He says crops today are more resilient to dry conditions than 20 years ago.
But as extreme weather becomes more frequent and the unusual becomes the norm, better breeds won’t be enough to save farmers, which begs the question, what can else can farmers do to become more resilient?
Climate adaptation is critical to preparing for more extreme weather.
The consequences of climate change are much harsher and more devastating in poorer countries due to low resources and adaptive capacity.
The reality that the world will likely overshoot the 1.5°C temperature during COP27 at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt due to our failure to curb GHG emissions calls for greater attention on climate adaptation to prepare the global economy and society for the consequences of climate change that can no longer be avoided.
This year’s climate summit is appropriately termed “the Implementation COP” to deliver more actions in climate adaptation and “loss and damage” payments to the most vulnerable countries.
But to date, when it comes to climate policy, climate mitigation dominates financing at 90% from 2019 to 2020. This is because climate adaptation is viewed as a local issue and a concern of only developing countries.
Climate change impacts originating beyond national borders.
According to Stockholm Environment Institute, limiting climate adaptation as a local issue is a false perception as it ignores climate change’s “complex and systemic” consequences and underestimates the importance of approaching adaptation on a global level. It further says that “governments and businesses around the world are already being affected by the impacts of climate change that originate beyond national borders. Such climate risks have been termed “transboundary climate risks” (When crises, 2022).
The nature of the global economy, which heavily relies on value chains and supply chain networks stretching to other countries and regions, means that climate change impacts on one country can also inflict economic costs on another.
We witnessed this recently when the covid-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains worldwide, leading to delays in the shipment of goods and supplies and skyrocketing prices.
For these reasons, climate adaptation on a global level must consider international trade channels and supply chain networks, particularly those coming from countries most vulnerable to climate change.
Helping poor and vulnerable countries adapt to climate change helps them protect their economy, making them more resilient to climate shocks and reducing the transboundary climate risks that will impact other countries.
Weise, E. (2022, December 8). Weird weather hit cattle ranchers and citrus growers in 2022. Why it likely will get worse. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2022/12/07/climate-change-effects-hit-farmers-us-rice-citrus-almond-crops/8258449001/
When crises become the norm: climate change adaptation and our global economy. (2022 November 24). SEI. Retrieved from https://www.sei.org/perspectives/climate-change-adaptation-and-global-economy/