Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Droughts could hit food production in England in 2020s, report warns

Damian Carrington in the Guardian (UK): Droughts could devastate food production in the England by the 2020s, according to a report from the government's official climate change advisers. Without action, increasingly hot and dry summers may mean farmers will face shortfalls of 50% of the water they currently use to grow crops. The report, from the climate change committee (CCC), also warns that current farming practices may be allowing the country's richest soils to be washed or blown away.

The future risks to England's food supply are becoming more apparent, with MPs warningthis month that the government's failure to protect the most valuable farmland from flooding "poses a long-term risk to the security of UK food production" and food experts cautioning that crop yields are reaching their maximum biological limits. Extreme recent weather – the wettest recorded autumn followed by the coldest spring in half a century – cut wheat yields by one third, leading to the import of 2.5m tonnes of wheat, the same amount that is usually exported.

"If we don't start acting now we will be in serious trouble," said Lord John Krebs, who led the CCC report. "We already rely on food imports to a significant extent." About 40% of the UK's food is imported.

Despite recent gloomy summers and suggestions of more to come, most climate scientists are confident that summers in the medium term will become drier and hotter. The CCC found that a dry year in the 2020s could see an irrigation shortfall of 120bn litres, half the current total used by farmers. Furthermore, those areas most at risk of drought – the fields of east and southern England – are currently the most productive.

To avoid this, farmers will need to build twice as many reservoirs on their land than exist now and also cut by 50% the amount of water used per hectare. Ensuring that the cost of water reflects how scarce it is, is also crucial, according to the report. At present, for example, the cheapest water by far is provided by Anglian water, despite that region being one of the driest in the country....

Wold House Farm in East Riding, Yorkshire, shot by Stephen Horncastle, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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