Chris Mooney, a man long recognized as one of the most alarmed of climate activists, writes in the Washington Post that “With a world population of 9 billion in 2050, wheat demand is expected to increase by 60%. To meet the demand, annual wheat yield increases must grow from the current level of below 1% to at least 1.6%.” That’s why the punchline of a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is pretty troubling. A warming climate, it suggests, could drive wheat yields in the opposite direction – down — in the United States and, possibly, elsewhere.”
The thrust of the article is that global warming will either reduce crop yields if there are more days with high temperatures above 34C, leave them the same or improve crop yields if there are fewer freezing days in the fall.
So of course the piece is headlined “Troubling new research says global warming will cut wheat yields”.
President Obama joined his voice to the scientific community’s in declaring (quite correctly) that 14 of the 15 highest recorded temperature years have occurred this century. Some have declared an increase in the number of heatwaves, droughts and dry spells falling short of drought.
So let’s see how that has impacted global wheat yields. We turn to the FAO, the UN Organization for Food and Agriculture, which for some reason wasn’t consulted for Mooney’s article. They show that wheat yields have increased from 585,690,886 tonnes in 2000 to 713,182,914 tonnes in 2013. The table doesn’t extend beyond 2013, but 2014 set records…
Mooney quoted the Wheat Institute as saying “To meet the demand, annual wheat yield increases must grow from the current level of below 1% to at least 1.6%.” But the FAO says historical growth for the past 15 years has been 1.34%. Someone will have to explain that to me.
At any rate, having the 14 hottest years since modern records began, having the supposed increase in droughts and heatwaves–has resulted in bumper harvests and record yields. Someone will have to explain that to me as well.
Given the rate of technology transfer and the ability of farmers in the developing world to improve yields by adopting modern agricultural methods, given the promise of genetically modified strains and the boost afforded by additional CO2, I really have to wonder if worrying about wheat is the most profitable use of our time.