Climate Change Could bring New Opportunities for Farmers to Diversify - Food

Climate Change Could bring New Opportunities for Farmers to Diversify   by Alison Withers

in Food    (submitted 2010-09-23)

Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers

The UK's Committee on Climate Change in has said in a new report that the effects of climate change are already noticeable in the country in the form of higher temperatures and changing seasons.

It is urging the UK Government to prepare itself quickly by looking and adapting buildings, at land use and at emergency planning for such things as flooding in low-lying coastal areas.

It has used computer prediction models to forecast a higher incidence of extreme temperatures, floods, heat waves and drought and warned that attention will need to be given to protecting important public buildings such as hospitals, care homes, coastal nuclear power stations and domestic homes,

But the report is not entirely negative and it also suggests that climate change may bring opportunities for farmers and other industries.

With warmer temperatures, farmers could, for example, be able to grow fruits like apricots, peaches, nectarines and grapes not usually associated with a climate like the UK's.

There is already some evidence of this in a project by a college in Kent, in the South of England, which has designed a garden that contains crops from the area's current and potential future. They include traditional crops that have been grown in the area, including apples, strawberries and herbs, but also Mediterranean plants including peaches, lemons and sunflowers.

This all sounds positive and optimistic but there are other issues that are potentially far from positive.

A global network called the Invasive Species Specialist Group(ISSG) has issued an urgent warning about the damage invading alien species can cause as they increasingly spread to Europe, where they may have no natural predators.

Among them are non-native animals, plants and micro-organisms that already cause an estimated 12 billion euros worth of damage every year in Europe and research published earlier in 2010 also indicated that such invasions have increased by 76% in the last 30 years.

They can have an impact on indigenous species, biodiversity and even human health. The most obvious example is the Asian Tiger Mosquito, which has increasingly spread around the world, and is a vector for Chikungunya fever, a virus that causes a severe illness in humans which can affect the joints and last for several years.

The ISSG Scientists, who have been attending a conference in Copenhagen, have called for urgent action in the form of Europe-wide legislation to prevent the threat of invasion by non-indigenous species from getting any worse.

It all illustrates that although there may be some positive opportunities for UK farmers as a result of climate change in switching to crops not previously grown in the country, it all needs careful study.

What effect, for example, will new crops have on the nutrients in the soil? How well will they adapt to their new environment and will they be able to resist attack by indigenous plants, insects and micro-organisms?

Another issue is whether they will be able to thrive and what kinds of disease protection and fertiliser they will need.

The efforts of the biopesticides developers, who focus on low-chem agricultural products including biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers, could play a crucial role in the protection and development of any non-indigenous crops that may be tried out in the future.