Climate change could hit food production in England by 2020s, warns report

• July 10, 2013
food production

Climate induced drought could hit the UK’s food supply by the 2020s, the government’s advisors have warned. Creative Commons: Francesco Carrani, 2011

Drought could devastate food production in England by the 2020s, according to a report form the government’s climate change advisors.

Increasingly hot and dry summers could mean farmers will face shortfalls of around 50% of the water currently used to grow crops, warned the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

The report found that in a dry year in the 2020s, there could be an irrigation shortfall of 120 billion litres – half of the total currently used by farmers.

And those areas most at risk of drought are those fields in the east and south of England that are currently the most productive, the CCC warns.

Crops in the UK are already being hit by climate change. Recent extreme weather – the wettest recorded autumn followed by the coldest spring in half a century – cut wheat yields by one third, leading to the import of 2.5 million tonnes, the same amount that is normally exported.

To avoid such events in the future, the report urges farmers to build twice as many reservoirs on their land and cut their water use by 50% per hectare of land.

Ensuring the cost of water reflects its scarcity will also be crucial.

The CCC report, published on Wednesday, spells out the challenges for agriculture and other land uses from the extreme weather expected from global warming.

It warned that carbon-rich soils on which many crops depend are being washed or blown away in places.

“This comes down to the more careful stewardship of soils by farmers,” said Krebs.

The report also warned that the retreat from coastlines as sea level rises must be speeded up five-fold or risk serious flooding.

Over half of England’s coastline is protected by sea walls, but rising seas are drowning the mudflats and salt marshes between the walls and the sea.

This reduction leaves the sea walls more vulnerable to storms and the government has already agreed that 10% of sea walls must be moved inland by 2030. However, the current rate of realignment is far too slow, found the report.

The degradation of peatlands, which store huge amounts of carbon and act as sponges to reduce flooding, must be reversed, the report concluded.

The damage is caused by burning, to encourage new heather growth for grouse shoots, and overgrazing by sheep, but Krebs said the management of peatland must be rebalanced towards the wider public benefits.

Read more: Guardian >>

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