In a week that saw the highest temperatures ever recorded in July not only in the UK but in other parts of Europe, talk has turned to peanuts and other crops that might be at risk.
Global peanuts consumption has grown at the rate of 2.53% and expected to grow further during 2019-2024. China and India are the largest consumer and exporters of peanuts in the world, accounting for more than 36% of the global consumption.
But according to reports, peanuts might be extinct by 2030. The reason is that peanuts are considered “fairly fussy plants”, and need five months of consistent warm weather, along with 20 to 40 inches of rain. If there is not enough rain, the pods won’t germinate. If there is too much rain, the plants will wilt making the peanuts inedible. We know from America’s peanut production that droughts and heat waves can destroy entire peanut crops. With the weather getting record-breakingly warmer, this is a worry.
Last week, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands recorded their highest ever temperatures. Several cities in France broke previous temperature records with Bordeaux and Paris exceeding 40 degrees. Here’s the science: the latest heatwave has been caused by an omega block which is a high-pressure pattern that blocks and diverts the jet stream, allowing a mass of hot air to flow up from northern Africa and the Iberian peninsula.
All of this climate change is putting crops at risk in harvest yields worldwide. It’s not just the heat however, crops are affected by unusually cold nights, weeks with no rainfall and storm-driven precipitation. All of which account for up to 49% of yield losses for maize, rice, spring wheat and soy beans.
Extensive studies have been carried out in Europe, the US and Africa to measure the cost to the grains, pulses and tubers that feed 7.7 billion people. These now have the aim of isolating the factors within climate change that might affect harvests.
Researchers have found that the maize yield in Africa is in a dire situation. Africa’s share of global maize production is not large, but the largest part of that production goes to human consumption. When compared to just 3% in North America, it is clear why maize is critical here for food security. Consider also that in the UK and Europe, maize is a key foodstock for cows, milk and beef and so indirectly human consumption.
Crops at Risk
The climate is crucial to most growth with food items such as avocados and chickpeas needing an awful lot of water to be produced. 72 gallons in fact to make just one pound of avocados. More than 80% of America’s avocados are grown in California, where there’s a drought. Similarly, chickpeas need almost the same amount of water. Global production of these legumes has gone down 40-50% due to worldwide droughts.
And what about coffee? The unimaginable could happen. Most coffee comes from Arabica beans, which grow best between 64 F and 70 F. If the temperature rises above that, the plants ripen too quickly, which affects the quality of the yield.
The bottom line is that climate change is happening and will affect the food we grow and eat. The extremes of British weather over the last week emphasises our vulnerability and allows us to reflect.