Blog Action Day 2009: Climate change and crops

This is a day late; Blog Action Day was yesterday.  Oops.

Last weekend, I drove from Daytona Beach to the foothills of North Carolina to visit family.  I wanted to avoid the interstates as much as possible, so I went up through the country on US and state routes.  It’s a longer drive, but much more pleasant and much less stressful.  I got stopped for 30 minutes by the homecoming parade in Folkston, GA, which was pretty entertaining.

The route takes me through several agricultural areas.  The main crops that I saw were soybeans and cotton.  The soybeans looked like they were done.  The cotton, though, was still waiting to be picked.  I don’t know much about cotton, but it looked like it was a good year.  The plants were loaded with bolls. 

I also passed several peach groves.  The peaches have been picked and the trees have lost their leaves, so they don’t look all that great right now.  But the trees were good-sized, so the groves are probably successful.

Seeing those crops made me think about the effects of climate change on crops.  Peaches are a very localized crop.  We can’t grow them in Florida, because they need a certain amount of cold weather.  They also won’t grow up north, because they can’t stand too much cold weather.  Cotton, also, only grows in the south.  Cotton has to be processed a good bit before it’s in usable form.  Those processes are all set up to take place in the south.  There’s a cotton gin in my parents’ town.

As the planet gets warmer, it’s going to get more difficult to grow anything in Florida that isn’t a tropical plant.  My CSA farmer is already having problems keeping ahead of the heat.  It’s also going to become difficult to grow peaches in Georgia and South Carolina.  Will peaches be growing in Ohio and Pennsylvania?  What about cotton?  What about all the businesses that are connected to it?

Agriculture is going to be severely dislocated.  As everything shifts north, many of the fruits and vegetables that we are used to having locally will no longer be local.  Peaches will get more expensive if they have to be shipped from Pennsylvania or New York State.  Farmers will have to adapt.   It’s going to be traumatic for a lot of people.

On the bright side, it’ll be easier to grow citrus in more locations.  Orange juice should be cheaper, and we’ll be able to grow bananas in Florida instead of shipping them from Costa Rica!

Mangoes for everyone! 



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