Increased CA temperatures could negatively affect crop growth, study finds

Photo of a bowl of vegetables
Brianna Luna/Staff
The study found that in light of climate change, cool-season crops, which require lower temperatures to survive, may now have to be grown during specific times of the year, while warm-season crops might have to be relocated to thrive in higher temperatures.

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Increased temperatures could negatively affect popular produce crops by the year 2045, altering the livelihoods of California farmers and heightening the risks of California food insecurity, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The study found that in light of climate change, cool-season crops, which require lower temperatures to survive, may now have to be grown during specific times of the year, while warm-season crops might have to be relocated to thrive in higher temperatures.

“California produces most of our produce,” said Alison Marklein, the lead author of the study. “We definitely need to be predicting how we will be able to continue growing these crops in the future.”

At the beginning of their four-year endeavor, the study’s researchers selected five crops grown at particularly high rates in California: broccoli, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and cantaloupes.

These crops were also chosen because they are frequently donated to food banks and are seen as critical to maintaining food security, according to Marklein.

“The way climate change affects these crops is going to have an impact on vulnerable populations, the nutritional security of vulnerable populations,” Marklein said.

Once the data-gathering process began, the researchers assessed 15 years of California air temperature data beginning in 1990. They also studied the ideal temperatures, locations and duration for each crop to grow.

Marklein and her team then developed a series of scenarios to predict how the crops would respond to changes in climate.

Additionally, the researchers compared the effects of hot-dry climates with cool-wet climates, and they studied how human responses to climate change might affect crop growth.

Based on these predictions and the ideal conditions for each crop, the researchers looked into possible locations in which each crop could be grown.

While changing location might be beneficial for the growth of some warm-season crops, Marklein added that relocating them might pose a challenge to farmers who have historically specialized in growing different types of produce.

“Farmers need to be able to prepare for future climate so they can be advocating for themselves, their farms and their livelihoods,” Marklein said.

Although the researchers focused on temperature, Marklein hopes their findings will serve as a “baseline” for other research about the effects of climate change.

She added that future research should consider other factors that can affect crop growth.

“There are other aspects such as soil and water used in other management practices that need to be considered when moving or changing the seasons of different crops,” Marklein said. “I hope this is used as the start of a road map to maintaining food security in the future.”

Contact Mallika Seshadri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.