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Why Half of the World’s Crops Could Be Wiped Out by 2100

“Our relatively rosy view that climate may not be a major threat on global production is looking increasing like wishful thinking.”

by Daisy Meager
20 January 2017, 1:38pm

According to data released earlier this week, 2016 was the third year in a row to break records for high temperatures. It might seem great when iced latte season gets extended by a few weeks, but it's bad news for the world's future food supply.

A new study has revealed just how much of an impact global warming could have on our ability to grow crops.

READ MORE: Researchers Project Sub-Saharan Africa Will Not Be Able to Feed Itself by 2050

Published in the Nature Communications journal, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research study predicts that should temperatures continue to rise; 20 percent of wheat crops, 40 percent of soybean crops, and 50 percent of maize crops will be wiped out in the US. The researchers forecast that for every day with temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius in the States, maize and soybean plants will lose around 5 percent of their harvest.

To find their way to this worrying conclusion, the Potsdam Institute scientists drew together algorithms based on historical crop data to create a computer simulation of how plants would react to different temperatures and farming techniques. While they admit that the model does not fully replicate all variables, they say that the findings stand up to real-life observations when tested.

But the predictions weren't all bad. When increased irrigation of fields was inserted into the model, harvest loss decreased. However the researchers acknowledged that pumping more water into fields was not a sustainable solution, especially in areas susceptible to drought.

MUNCHIES reached out to Tim Benton, professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds, to find out whether the Potsdam model was a good indicator of what could happen to the world's future food supply. He said: "The model is a good one, but obviously makes a range of assumptions that will not necessarily come to pass. However, while it is always possible to quibble with studies projecting into the future, the message and conclusions are clear."

READ MORE: This Scientific Breakthrough Could Completely Change the Way the World Grows Food

Benton continued: "As the climate changes, weather changes with it, and it will become increasingly extreme. This will inevitably affect what can be grown and where it can be grown. Models are getting better at incorporating the realities of climate (which has its greatest impact via extreme weather) and our relatively rosy view that climate may not be a major threat on global production is looking increasing like wishful thinking."

On a day when a climate change denier will be sworn into the White House, it looks like it's time to take those rose-tinted glasses off for good.