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Human Activity Affects Agriculture and Food Supply

June 2, 2012

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Agriculture is highly sensitive to climate variability and weather extremes,   such as droughts, floods and severe storms. The forces that shape our climate   are also critical to farm productivity. Human activity has already changed   atmospheric characteristics such as temperature, rainfall, levels of carbon   dioxide (CO2)   and ground level ozone. The scientific community expects such trends to   continue. While food production may benefit from a warmer climate, the increased   potential   for droughts, floods and heat waves will pose challenges for farmers. Additionally,   the enduring changes in climate, water supply and soil moisture could make  it less feasible to continue crop production in certain regions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC,  2007)  concluded:

Recent studies indicate that increased frequency of  heat stress, droughts and floods negatively affect crop yields and livestock  beyond the impacts of mean climate change, creating the possibility for surprises,  with impacts that are larger, and occurring earlier, than predicted using  changes in mean variables alone. This is especially the case for subsistence  sectors at low latitudes. Climate variability and change also modify the risks  of fires, pest and pathogen outbreak, negatively affecting food, fiber and  forestry.


Agriculture in the U.S. and other industrialized countries is expected to be less vulnerable to climate change than agriculture in developing nations, especially in the tropics, where farmers may have a limited ability to adapt. In addition, the effects of climate change on U.S. and world agriculture will depend not only on changing climate conditions, but will also depend on the agricultural sector’s ability to adapt through future changes in technology, changes in demand for food, and environmental conditions, such as water availability and soil quality. Management practices, the opportunity to switch management and crop selection from season to season, and technology can help the agricultural sector cope with and adapt to climatic variability and change.

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