Climate Change Is Threatening the World's Wheat

Rising average temperatures could seriously impact wheat yields.

Wheat Climate Change
Photo: © Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

Despite the growing gluten-free movement, wheat continues to be one of the world's most important and widely consumed crops. However, troubling new findings about climate change and agriculture paints a grim portrait of the crop's future. In a report published early this week in Nature Climate Change, scientists acknowledge that the earth's rising average temperatures could seriously impact wheat yields.

According to The Washington Post, the world's farmers currently collectively produce over 700 million tons of wheat each year, which is used to create some of mankind's most universal foods, like bread, cereal and pasta. The study authors analyzed multiple sets of data on the future of crop production across the globe and came to the consensus that higher temperatures means much lower yields. Using statistical techniques and analytical tools, the scientists took a closer look at climate change's implications for the most universally consumed crop by humans: wheat. Three different models were utilized to study the effect of temperature—rather than other climate-related elements, like precipitation—on farming operations.

The conclusion: If the global temperature rose one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), the world's wheat yield would fall 4.1-6.4 percent—about 35 million tons. According to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, in 2016 and 2017 humans alone consumed 500 million tons of wheat, so a decline in the production of the crop could mean a frightening issue for the world's food supply.

The report notes that in warmer regions, like India, climate change would more harshly affect wheat output. However, according to the study authors, "The consistent negative impact from increasing temperatures confirmed by three independent methods warrants critical needed investment in climate change adaptation strategies to counteract the adverse effects of rising temperatures on global wheat production."

These strategies could include "genetic improvement" and "management adjustments," according to the researchers. They also note that this study only took into account temperature alone, and open up the possibility that a combination of climate change's effects could cause even more havoc. However, it is also possible that some of the effects—such as rising carbon dioxide concentrations—could actually cause higher levels of growth in certain plants. Still, for now, experts agree: climate change is a threat to your favorite plate of pasta.

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