Scientists Seek to Adapt Crops to Climate Change

Throughout history, farmers have adopted new crop varieties and adjusted their practices in tune with environmental change. But as global temperature continues to rise, the pace of change is expected to be unprecedented, and experts are now warning that climate change could trigger a global food crisis as farmers struggle to keep up.

To help guide the priorities of scientists, funding agencies and policy makers as they decide how best to respond to the affects of climate change on today’s and tomorrow’s agricultural systems, the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) announced its position on adapting crops to climate change.

Researched and written by a working group of scientists from academia and industry, the statement reviews the affects of variable weather conditions arising from climate change on cropping systems; reports the progress to date in adapting crops and management practices to these new conditions; and offers focus areas for increasing the speed at which global agricultural systems can further adapt.

In particular, the statement calls for rapid expansion of research programs to understand the physiological, genetic and molecular basis of adaptation to the drought, heat and biological stresses that will likely result from climate change. A robust and sustainable infrastructure is also needed, the statement says, to translate new knowledge into real-world practices for farmers, and make new crop varieties, technologies and innovations widely available to increase food production and stability around the globe.

"Developing new crops and cultivars through plant breeding is a long term process,” said Texas A&M University corn breeder and geneticist, Seth Murray, a member of the working group. “While new technologies are already speeding up the rate of crop improvement, we need to start thinking proactively about how to sustainably increase food security under quickly changing environmental extremes."

More frequent and intense precipitation events, elevated temperatures, and drought are all expected to take tolls on crop yield and quality, making the challenge of feeding an estimated 9 to 10 billion people by 2050 exceedingly difficult. Unpredictable and severe weather can also leave the most volatile regions of the world even more vulnerable to instability, because of increased hunger and poverty.

“Thanks to the many participating scientists for developing a strong vision of the capacity, value, and role for the CSSA in meeting these challenges through crop adaptation,” said Texas A&M University soil and crop scientist, David Baltensperger, who is the CSSA’s science policy committee chair. “Their efforts represent a framework from which to make funding decisions on long-term investments to ensure global food supplies and political stability in the face of climate change.”

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