This topic submitted by on 4/27/02.

The Agricultural Implications of Global Climate Change


The following material is a proposal for scientific research into the agricultural implications of global climate change (in particular global warming). Using previously compiled data from a host of various sources, we will examine some of the predicted changes in agricultural systems, those peoples most likely to be affected by change, and some of the proposed means of adapting to/alleviating negative consequences of change.


Our primary focus concerns the agricultural implications of global climate change as it affects regional systems. Our proposal concludes with recommendations for the future of agriculture based on the evident disparity between MDCs and LDCs as far as climate change vulnerabilities and response capabilities.

The last few decades of scientific research and inquiry have revealed an increase in global temperatures and a shift in global precipitation patterns. Studies indicate a rise in temperature in the range of .5-.7 degrees C in the last one hundred years. Though the definitive causal factor (or factors) is heatedly debated within scientific and political circles, much evidence of the phenomenon of climatic change is virtually uncontestable.

Click here for a Quicktime movie of temperature changes starting in the early twentieth century and finishing at the close of the twenty-first century.

A more complex debate surrounds the various implications of climate change for our planet's natural and human systems. The early Malthusian-esque forecasts of impending doom have been abandoned for a more rational approach to examining specific regional affects and experimenting with potential adaptations.
Due to the fact that climate change will affect both natural and human systems, it is important to study the effects of change at the pont where these two systems intimately meet: agriculture.

We intend to explore three primary questions in the course of our research. 1.) What major changes will most drastically effect the current agricultural system? 2.) Who will be affected by negative changes in the agricultural system? 3.) What measures, if any, can be applied to adapt and/or alleviate the negative consequences of agricultural change?

Planning a golf outing or a pin nic in 100 years from now? Take today's temperature and add this:


1. Major Climatic Changes directly affecting agriculture:

a. Rising sea level decreases coastal land. This is problematic because the majority of the world's
population resides on our near the coast. Furthermore, the majority of the world's population is
located in LDCs in increasingly greater proportions as total world population grows.
b. Shifting rainfall patterns will change the growing locations of various crops. Some regions
will be better suited for agriculture, while others will experience decreased yields.
c. Shifting temperature ranges will affect changes in the lengths of growing seasons. Farmers
will need to adjust planting and harvesting dates.

2. Reactions in MDCs versus LDCs

a. LDCs will become increasingly dependent on MDCs.
1. food aid
2. pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers
3. agricultural technologies, ie genetic engineering

b. MDCs will suffer a disproportionate amount of the net negative affects on agricultural and human systems.
1. economic wherewithal
2. agricultural policies

3. Adaptations

a. Research into the global causes and regional affects of climate change.
b. International and domestic policy changes to protect small farmers' interests on the global
market and the food security of the people of LDCs.
c. Initiative to build sustainable infrastructure in LDCs, and international commitment to assist
LDCs in sustainable development (which includes refraining from practices or actions which
compromise the long-term interests of developing nations' environments and citizens).

Click here for a short movie on the changes that the landscape in England will undergo as a result of global warming. According to the narrator, if warming continues at the same rate we are experiencing now, England will one day become a prime location for vineyards!!!!


It is our intention to examine the key issues surrounding the human agriculture system. Of the 80,000 potentially edible plants on the Earth, humans rely on only 30 species of plants for 95% of our nutrition. A mere 8 crops supply 75% of our diet. (Biosphere 2000) Agricultural production per capita has seen an average increase of 2.25 % in the last fifty years. This increase in productivity is largely a result of the implementation of agricultural technologies heralded by the "green revolution." It is also based on the fact that, during this period, net agricultural productivity grew faster than population. Since 1990, though, per capita food production in developing countries has consistently declined. Also, virtually one half of the world's food production occurs in countries with agricultural growth rates of less than 2.25%. (Boonekamp 2000) The U.S. Census Bureau has projected that the global population will reach 9.35 billion by the year 2050.

In addition, this increase will occur primarily in developing nations whose populations are also expected to realize higher life expectancies over the same time period. (Foster and Leathers 1999) In light of these and other startling projections and within the context of global climate change, some scientists, for the first time in history, have begun to discuss the potential for absolute global food shortage.

The advent of global warming will have major affects on future agricultural productivity. As production increases to accommodate a growing population, so do emissions of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, further exacerbating warming. Global warming will manifest itself in numerous ways and probably have a more dramatic affect on regional rather than global crop yields. Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns will affect the kinds of crops that can grow in a particular place. Some areas, such as coastal regions, will no longer be suited for agriculture due to salt-water intrusion into freshwater aquifers (preventing irrigation) or flooding of prime agricultural land. However, other regions may experience a growth in productivity due to global warming; such regions may see a longer growing season, and rising levels of carbon dioxide tend to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis, thus accelerating plant growth. Wheat, rice and soybeans are especially responsive to higher levels of CO2, characterized by C3 pathways in the course of photosynthesis.

While C3 plants will show increased productivity in correlation with initial increases in CO2 , over time, productivity will level off even as CO2 continues to increase.

Higher average temperatures are also correlated with higher incidences of insect reproduction and disease. (Johnson 1991) These changes may result in an increased use of pesticide and herbicide use, which has serious implications for the health of natural systems, including humans of course. Higher global temperatures could also result in a dramatic loss of biodiversity, due to pole-ward and altitudinal shifts in species' ranges.

This diagram illustrates some of the effects global warming will have on agriculture.

There is much evidence to suggest that global warming would not adversely affect agricultural productivity in the United States; our country has the financial resources to invest in research programs and technologies that could help its producers adapt to changes. Genetic engineering, for example, could be used to develop crops that would flourish in any climate. Even poorer farmers could adjust planting dates, crop varieties, and use more chemicals. However, those with the least resources are the most vulnerable to the effects of global climate change; unfortunately, they are also the most likely to be adversely affected by population growth, resource depletion and other forms of environmental degradation. Farmers of developing nations, subject to the above conditions, would never be able to compete in the global market in the face of agricultural subsidies given to their counterparts in industrialized nations. (Johnson 1991)

The agricultural policies of industrialized nations are designed to diminish the economic gap between its farmers and the rest of its population. In general, trade policies in these nations tend to favor liberalization, but such is not the case with agricultural trade. Industrialized nation's governments provide export subsidies to farmers and place import restrictions on food products in order to increase their producers' profitability in the World Market. These nations justify their interference in the global market on the basis that agricultural trade has such a dramatic impact on a nation's domestic policies and programs. In short, MDCs are primarily concerned with protecting and feeding their own citizens, and their agricultural policies indeed grant their producers a competitive edge. However, these policies prevent agricultural products from being produced at the lowest possible cost and demonstrate a lack of regard for the producers of other nations, namely those of developing nations. Industrialized nations encourage their farmers to overproduce and to use the international market for further profit. Developing nations, on the other hand, are often forced exploit their farmers. They levy export taxes on food products in order to alleviate foreign debts (such as to the IMF and World Bank), and they force food prices down to accommodate urban consumers and "keep up" with liberalization of the world market. (Thompson 1994) LDCs suffer for the same "market logic" encouraged by MDCs, though industrialized nations have not themselves liberalized trade in agricultural goods.

One attempt to reduce the disparity between industrial and developing nations as far as agriculture has been the implementation of food aid programs. Grain Insurance, for example, was designed to minimize yearly variations in food production in developing nations. It aimed to establish a consistent supply of grain to the poorest of the poor, or a sense of food security. (Boonekamp 2000) However, this program and others centered around aid in no way present long-term solutions to a nation's agricultural, economic or developmental problems. Government protection of farmers is one possible one answer; it has proven to raise a nation's per capita income, which is linked with better health care, education, and a decrease in population. (Johnson 1991) Developing nations need, first and foremost though, what the EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) has classified as Enabling Tools for Sustainability: Analytical Tools for problem identification, analysis and decision-making, Process Tools for problem-solving and technological advancement, and Economic Tools to build a supportive infrastructure for financial analysis and investment decisions. They need their own capital for research into climate change, resource protection, and agricultural productivity, not merely conditional aid from hegemonic institutions. The producers of the world should be empowered by political and economic systems, not "rescued" and forced into unrelenting debt and poverty.

There are numerous factors to consider in examining the effect that climate change can have on agricultural systems and world markets.


To examine the agricultural implications of climate change, we will compile an extensive database of primary and secondary literature regarding agriculture and future change. We hope to conduct ourselves in a multidisciplinary fashion, as agriculture touches upon economic, social, ethical, and ecological issues. The data we collect will represent a host of different implications for future agriculture given a global warming scenario. The complexity of agricultural issues and systems does not readily lend itself to statistical analysis, and future uncertainty abounds as far as technological advancement and the inadequacies of current climate change models. In order to consider the future implications of climate change for agricultural systems, then, it was necessary for us to simplify both the parameters of climate change and of agricultural systems. We therefore synthesized previous research from a wide array of fields in the context of precipitation and temperature changes and their affects on regional yields currently, and in the future.


This graph illustrates percentage changes in precipitation from 1900 to 1995.

The following climate maps exhibit the change in temperature and precipitation for the next 80 years. This data was obtained from an IPCC climate modeling program available at their website. Using the program we inputed the variables for the amount of average millimeters per day and mean temperature in C for precipitation and temperature respectively.

Here are the projections for future precipitation (mm/day) in comparison for data from 1961-1990.

This graph shows the temperature changes in degrees C for the period from 1900 to 1996.

Here are the projections for future mean temperature in comparison with data from 1961-1990.

This graph illustrates the interaction between climatic factors and the agricultural system.

As part of our research, we chose to divide the world into five regions. Each region represents an entirely different set of climatic, socio-cultural, economic, and ecological data. Given this information, it follows that the effects of climate change will differ in each region. Below are links to the data sets we used for classification and interpretation of regional climatic changes.


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1. Global dietary patterns What are people eating around the world?

2. The developing world receives the majority of food aid distributed around the globe.

3. Developed and developing nations alike depend on agricultural imports.

4. Many developing nations will lead the world in population growth through the year 2010.

5. The question remains whether or not developing nations will be able to avert food shortages after climatic change affects their current food production capability.

6. The economic role of agriculture is likely to increase from current levels as global climate change affects the planet.

7. The El Nino weather events are also likely to be affected by global climate change. Changes in the seasonal pattern of El Nino events can disrupt both summer and winter growing seasons.

8. Those countries with large rural populations are likely to be affected by climatic change.


Given the data we have compiled we chose to examine five regions throughout the globe to determine the potential future changes in land use and therefore agricultural output.

Computer model calculation of the effect of carbon dioxide on plant physiology and global climate. As carbon dioxide increases, vegetation may evaporate less water which would cause the land to heat up (dotted areas). This map shows additional heating (over and above the conventional carbon dioxide greenhouse effect) over the continents due to this phenomenon, for doubled current carbon dioxide concentrations (700 ppm).

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization

The U.S. Global Change Research Center

Environmental Protection Agency
Global Change Data and Information Center

Click here to create your own climate scenario as we did earlier in the presentation.


To access a complete list of our works consulted and cited click here. The file is in a Word document format. It includes the citations, a brief abstract of the materials, and the reason we chose to include it.

The future of our agricultural system and human life as we know it may very well depend on the choices we make today.

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