Feeding the World in a Warming World—A New Reason Report

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Drought tolerant corn boosts yields

My colleague Julian Morris, the vice-president for research at the Reason Foundation, along with Ohio State University natural resource economist Douglas Southgate have issued a new report, Weathering Global Warming in Agriculture [PDF]. Global warming will clearly affect what, how, and where farmers will grow food in the future as rainfall and temperature patterns shift. Will farmers be able to keep up with any changes in the weather and provide the food that 9 billion people will need by 2050? Yes, according to the new report, if they are allowed to adapt and trade. 

Interestingly, the report highlights the fact that a lot of the projections for future agricultural production assume that farmers will be using pretty much the same technologies and growing the same crop varieties in the same areas as they do now. It's like assuming that person will allow themselves to be drowned by standing still in a rising tide. 

In fact, during the last half century, farmers around the globe have proven themselves highly adaptable if given the chance. As the world's population burgeoned, food production more than kept up: 

…mainly thanks to technological advances during and since the Green Revolution that have caused global yields of cereals (which comprise at least 60 percent of the human diet if the grain consumed by livestock is taken into account) to rise by 150 percent since the early 1960s.

The general tendency of food supplies to overwhelm food demand has registered in the marketplace. Corrected for inflation, prices of corn, rice and wheat declined by approximately 75 percent between 1950 and the middle 1980s, and then remained at historically low levels for another two decades. Food prices spiked in 2007 and 2008 due to rising agricultural production costs resulting from higher energy prices, expanded conversion of corn and other crops into biofuels, and export restrictions implemented by nations such as Argentina, Ukraine and Vietnam. However, markets soon returned to normal, with prices in late 2008 a little above what they had been before the spike.

Occasional upswings like those of 2007 and 2008 notwithstanding, food prices can remain at current levels or even decline further in the years to come. For example, the World Bank anticipates a deceleration of demand growth, mainly because population increases will dwindle as human fertility continues to decline and because the rate of growth for grain consumption per capita promises to slow down in emerging economies. In addition, ample opportunities remain for boosting production. Under the Bank's baseline scenario, real food prices should be slightly below current levels in 2050, when human numbers will be at around nine billion and close to stabilizing.

What needs to be done in the future? As the report spells out, reforms must be taken to privatize and market price irrigation water, stop agricultural subsidies and end trade barriers, and allow farmers to adopt new crop varieties including those developed by biotechnology. 

The report concludes: 

If agriculture suffers because of climate change, the fault will lie not with underlying environmental scarcity, but rather with the absence of reforms such as these—reforms for which the case could hardly be more compelling.

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  1. Good. Our first catch of the day.

  2. our, ahem…i mean amerika’s genetically-engineered, irradiated foodstocks will do fine when re-imported from china ! >pass the PCB’s please…

  3. Ron, question:

    Does this study take into account the additional grain necessary to feed cattle, as people in emergent economies tend to shift to much higher meat consumption?

    1. 1) Africa is MADE for grazing.
      2) Israel/Palestine would make a premium location for the world’s largest swinery, and the real estate will probably be available for such soon.
      3) A lot of the poorass places in the world (Africa) are pastoral to begin with, but lack any knowledge of animal husbandy. Livestock output can only rise.
      4) The alleged destruction of “teh rainfurrests” results in pretty prime grazing lands.

  4. And once we pass through the demographic bottleneck of the 2050’s and population trends down, farmers are going to fucking bury our asses in food too cheap to meter.

      1. Don’t worry, we’ll still fuck with aid shipments and use hunger as a weapon against our own populace.

  5. Interestingly, the report highlights the fact that a lot of the projections for future agricultural production assume that farmers will be using pretty much the same technologies and growing the same crop varieties in the same areas as they do now.

    They better not be. We’re already on the verge of a Global Warming catastrophe triggered by some shit or the other that productive assholes are doing to heat the environment way the hell up.

  6. Gojira: Not explicitly, but the World Bank report on future agricultural cited by the Reason report productivity does.

    1. Disclaimer: I hate threaded comments too.

  7. Also, are we on track to hit 9 billion? Didn’t I just read that our population growth or birth rate or whatever is declining to an alarmingly low level? Combine breeders not popping out a ton of squalling brats and robots growing food for us on the moon, and I don’t really see a problem for 2050 Earth.

    1. Well you certainly won’t see the problems coming.

      1. “Who the hell are YOU!”

        there guys…i acknowledged the mediocre movie.

        1. I don’t and that was me. I was sorta mixing The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Futurama (where there are hick robots farming on the moon).

          1. We’re whalers on the moon. We carry our harpoons. But there ain’t no whales, so we tell tales tales. We’re whalers on the moon.

  8. All those crops will spontaneously combust in the field, and we will die gasping for breath in a dustbowl whirlwind.

    Don’t you guys know anything?

    1. we know one thing now

  9. Ah, the OSU administration should be here soon to angrily defend their pointless article.

    1. Whoa. Dr. Southgate is OSU faculty, and he omitted the “The” in his bio? He is so terminated for moral turpitude.

      1. Thank god I’m not the only one who caught that. Otherwise, you’re just talking about Oklahoma State.

        1. Or Ohio University. No the!

          I’m a former employee of Ohio State (research staff), which is why I notice it so quickly. I used to regularly get my published works edited to include the precious “the.” Moronic.

          1. Wait, that’s official?

            I thought that was just something the football team made up to be a-holes during introductions.

            1. It’s absolutely official. I used to get reminders from OSURF (the research foundation) about it from time to time. I once asked why it wasn’t TOSURF, then, but they didn’t laugh.

            2. Have you ever met anyone who was an OSU alum? Oh yeah it is official. They really are that obnoxious.

              1. My Dad is a tOSU graduate and my best friend has a PhD in ME from Ohio State. They aren’t obnoxious. Well, my friend gets pretty obnoxious when we’re drinkin’…

              2. Have you ever met anyone who was an OSU alum? Oh yeah it is official. They really are that obnoxious.

                I hope for your sake, John, you are referring to Ohio State and not Oklahoma State, pal!

                1. I think a woman I dated some years ago got her MD at Oklahoma State. It might’ve been Oklahoma–can’t remember.

                  1. Now you’ll never get invited to dot the i.

                  2. It would have been OU; their med school is an MD program. OSU’s med school is osteopathic.

                    1. She was–presumably still is–an anesthesiologist.

                    2. The ‘The’ is a legal requirement to distinguish Ohio State from Ohio U. State lost a battle over names a few years ago.

        2. SloopyinCA is not going to like this.

        3. Or Oregon State! amirite,amirite? *crickets*

      2. I like to call them An Ohio State University, abbreviated aOSU, since there are other state universities in Ohio.

        1. I do that, too. It doesn’t matter–all of my former co-workers hate me now because of my UFness.

      3. For awhile, during the intros to NFL games, some of the players would add “THE” to the names of their schools, to mock the Buckeyes.* Good stuff, but they don’t seem to be doing it anymore.

        *And isn’t “Buckeye” just about the sorriest team name/mascot you’ve ever heard of?

        1. Yes it is. Who the hell names themselves after an acorn?

          1. It’s not an acorn. And it’s poisonous.

            1. Semi-poisonous.

              1. So’s my semen, but no one made it their school mascot.

                1. I mean, if you’re going to go that direction, why not something really lethal? Ohio State Toadstools, perhaps?

                  1. The Ohio State Eye-Biting Battlesnakes

                    1. You know, why not something really deadly, like a disease? The Ohio State Plague. Or maybe Ohio State Clap?

                    2. The Ohio State Syndromes. It’s a catch all.

                    3. Pestilence? That kind of has a nice ring to it.

                    4. It’s funny you mention “pestilence” Pro’L Dib. That is exactly how I refer to our current Pestilence-in-Chief just to tweak commie faggot pinko libs. I also use “His Pestilency.”

                      I also suggest Ohio State Spriochetes. (Spirochetes are a type of bacterial shape; the most well known example is Treponema pallidum, AKA syphilis.)

                    5. What about Streptococci?

                    6. No, it just doesn’t have that…zing.

                    7. It’s got syllables that can be misused. Like the Semenholes.

                    8. Ha Ha! Semenholes. Zing!!

                    9. It was uncalled for.

        2. Delaware Blue Hens is pretty lame.

          1. What’s a Hoya? Or a Hokie?

            1. I was told that Hoya Saxa means “what rocks”. So, when I would ask what’s a hoya, the answer would always be, “that’s right”. A Hokie is some kind of turkey I believe.

              1. Tar Heels is crazy

        3. I used to complain about that when I was there. A semi-poisonous nut? Really? Not to mention that there’s a holiday confection of the same name (called thus because it looks like a buckeye).

          If I were an Ohioan, I’d consider the use of “Buckeye” to be an insult to the state. I mean, that’s the toughest thing you can come up with? Neil Fucking Armstrong is from Ohio. How about something referencing him?

          1. Another Ohio badass astronaut. John Glenn!

            1. They breed presidents and astronauts like crazy. I think it’s because both professions mean getting out of Ohio, but that’s just a theory.

              Glenn is great and all, but he didn’t do anything particularly unique, and he was a danged politician. Armstrong, on the other hand, is Neil Fucking Armstrong. Thousands of years from now, he may be the only American remembered as such.

              1. True dat. But Glenn can take a punch.

                1. If they had Aldrin, that would be acceptable, too, since he slugged that Moon conspiracy nut.

            2. Astronaut worship. I’ll never understand it. Just pilots with even bigger egos than the rest

    2. remainz the best damn band in the landz…regardless of sanctionz

  10. You write:

    reforms must be taken to privatize and market price irrigation water, stop agricultural subsidies and end trade barriers, and allow farmers to adopt new crop varieties including those developed by biotechnology.

    You missed this part:

    In principle, it would be possible to compensate for productivity losses in agriculture, which are
    indicated by declining net revenues. For example, it has been estimated that increased spending of
    $3 billion per year on rural roads and other infrastructure would allow Sub-Saharan Africa to deal
    with the agricultural impacts of climate change. Likewise, declines in average calorie availability
    and per-capita grain production in Asia could be avoided by increasing annual investment in
    irrigation systems and other public works by $2.5 billion. The effects of climate change are
    expected to be milder in Latin America and the Caribbean, so a little more than $1 billion spent
    each year on agricultural research, irrigation efficiency and rural infrastructure should allow the
    region to cope.18

    Government investment in infrastructure and R+D is necessary to maintain agricultural yields. How shocking that you conveniently omitted this from your summary.

    1. Because without government involvement nobody would know how to grow crops anymore? Are you that fucking stupid?

      I’m sure your one of the guys complaining about the corporations. Why do you support subsidies of big Agr?

      1. Do you see the words “infrastructure” “roads” and “public works” in the part that I quoted from the study?

        Do corporations tend to build those things? Are you that fucking stupid?

        1. Re: The Derider,

          Do corporations tend to build those things?

          YES, THEY DO – STUPID.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_highway

          Asia

          As of 2003, the Hong Kong government was planning to securitize five toll tunnels and a toll bridge through bond issues. According to Captain Japan, the Tokyo Expressway is the city’s only private highway. It is not funded with tolls, but rather with rent from three floors of businesses directly beneath the highway. India also has a private highway between the two cities of Bangalore and Mysore in the state of Karnataka.

          North America

          Mexico has some highways operated by private companies. The 108 km Highway 407 ETR through the Greater Toronto Area is operated privately under a 99-year lease agreement with the provincial government. The highway uses electronic toll collection. Users who do not have a toll tag (called a transponder) in their vehicle are tracked by automatic number plate recognition, with the toll bill being mailed to the address of the plate on file. There are also some private highways in the United States.

          Europe

          France is planning a private project to build 10 miles (16 km) of double-decked tunnel to close a gap in the beltway around Paris. 3,120 kilometers of Italy’s highways (comprising 56% of the country’s toll roads) are controlled by Autostrade Concessioni e Costruzioni Autostrade. According to Forbes, “Autostrade was an early Electronic Age entry, computerizing to its highway system in 1988”. The M6 Toll was the first private toll motorway in the United Kingdom. The project was described by urbantransport-technology.com as a “27 mile [43 km] dual three lane (plus hard shoulder), ?485.5 million motorway” with six toll stations.

          1. Building a private highway in an area with existing transportation options is distinct from building “rural roads”. You can’t act like a monopoly with the former. You can with the latter.

            1. And the transaction costs associated with running a private road are immense. They only get built in areas with intense traffic. Rural roads just aren’t profitable for a private company to run (unless they need the road for some other reason, like logging). If the government doesn’t fund them, nobody will.

              1. Then again, I might as well get to the point and say “fuck the private sector”.

        2. Not only do they, but they should. Plus you said R&D as well you disingenuous fuck.

          1. In case you can’t connect the dots. Giant corporations such as Monsato are the ones spending millions of dollars on R&D in increasing agricultural yields (succesfully). You just proposed subsidizing them, yet I bet your one of those morons who are scared of GMOs.

            1. I didn’t propose subsidizing them, THE ARTICLE REASON JUST PUBLISHED DID.

              Also , calling me a moron while misusing “you’re” is pretty funny.

    2. TD: Glad you clicked through to the link to find out my nefariousness.

      1. Is that related to The Nefario Complex?

        1. I do it to cover up my deep-rooted self-loathing, Ron. It makes me feel like a little girl again.

  11. What is this, Bailey? Your previous article clearly outs you as the denier you are; you can’t just pivot 180? here and use the effects of AGW as rationale for pushing your so-called free market ideology.

    Look: if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Learn it.

  12. I can’t find the citation, but I’m fairly certain that AGW was likely to cause longer growing seasons (ie, two crop seasons) across large swaths of the Northern Hemisphere. Doubling grain production across 3-5 degrees of latitude in Europe and Asia would require a lot of drought in currently arable land to offset.

    1. I can’t find the citation, but I’m fairly certain that AGW was likely to cause longer everything bad …

      There, fixed it.

  13. Feeding the World in a Warming World – A New Reason Report

    Should read “Feeding the world in a warmed world.” the world has not warmed in the past 13 to 15 years….or did you not actually read the new BEST studies but only the headlines?

  14. Ron, I am curious, is it commonly accepted that global warming means more droughts. I would think that higher ambient surface temperaures would increase the overall humidity thus cause a greater degree of precipitation.

    1. Article Sez: This is consistent with the observation made by Kane et al. that, due to elevated evapotranspiration, substantial crop-stress can result in the tropics and subtropics from a minor rise in temperatures.

      Evapotranspiration is evaporation directly from plants. They wilt.

      1. Evapotranspiration is evaporation directly from plants. They wilt.

        That is from S. Kane, J. Reilly and J. Tobey. 1992, “An Empirical Study of the Economic Effects of Climate Change on World Agriculture,”

        Except that evapotranspiration will reduce with increasing CO2.

        http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_…..030311.php

        Public release date: 3-Mar-2011

        As carbon dioxide levels have risen during the last 150 years, the density of pores that allow plants to breathe has dwindled by 34 percent, restricting the amount of water vapor the plants release to the atmosphere, report scientists from Indiana University Bloomington and Utrecht University in the Netherlands …

        Also:

        That model suggests that a doubling of today’s carbon dioxide levels — from 390 parts per million to 800 ppm — will halve the amount of water lost to the air, concluding in the second paper that “plant adaptation to rising CO2 is currently altering the hydrological cycle and climate and will continue to do so throughout this century.”

        So maybe they won’t wilt. It is also possible that a theory built on a mile high hill of assumptions may actually turn out to be true. But I doubt it.

        1. That’s cool, and I don’t necessarily disagree. However, if they’re right, these plants won’t grow any faster from increased C02 in the atmosphere — another assumption the paper makes.

          1. Tell a seasoned marijuana grower that CO2 won’t help his crop and he’ll laugh you out of the conversation.

            1. Is The Derider still at it? Is it still prancing around pretending to be above others?

  15. …mainly thanks to technological advances during and since the Green Revolution that have caused global yields of cereals (which comprise at least 60 percent of the human diet if the grain consumed by livestock is taken into account) to rise by 150 percent since the early 1960s.

    Unfortunately, most of the agricultural productivity growth was in the 60s and 70s. Productivity is rising very slowly now, and for wheat and soybeans, it is not rising at all. Graph here.

    Worse yet, there is little room for expansion, since there is little arable land left, and many non-recharging aquifers are depleting quickly.

    However, markets soon returned to normal, with prices in late 2008 a little above what they had been before the spike.

    And then went back up, even higher, in 2010 and 2011. The FAO food price index is off its record, but its record was set earlier this year. How did they forget to mention this in a Nov. 2011 paper?

  16. Two thoughts:

    1. What global warming? A few tenths of a degree over a few centuries is less than the typical year-to-year variations and requires no adjustment in farming methods.

    2. The last time the Earth warmed significantly, about 1,000 years ago, agricultural output increased dramatically. Did they consider that higher temperatures might be beneficial to agricultural output?

    1. Re: CE,

      Did they consider that higher temperatures might be beneficial to agricultural output?

      But that would be terrible because it would increase the population which would consume more resurces “we” don’t have thus having more people starve to death which would save the trees which is what we want.

      The mind of the schezophrenic lefty.

  17. Global warming will clearly affect what, how, and where farmers will grow food in the future as rainfall and temperature patterns shift.

    It will be terrible, as draughts and severe storms affect the planting seasons, just as it was predicted in 1990…

  18. OK, so maybe GW will affect the crops. But on the other hand, the food will stay warm on the table longer.

    Or, GC might keep our ice cream from melting. Either way, it’s win-win.

    1. I hope that you will share your ice cream

  19. As the report spells out, reforms must be taken to privatize and market price irrigation water, stop agricultural subsidies and end trade barriers, and allow farmers to adopt new crop varieties including those developed by biotechnology.

    No, no, no! We don’t want to solve the agricultural problem, we want to solve climate change! How do we do it in such a way we all have socialism?

    1. Give us time, OM. We’re working on it.

  20. We are more likely to see global cooling, possibly quite dramatic, in the next century. This represents a real and serious threat to ag, since shorter growing seasons and cooler temps reduce yields. R&D on this would be more useful.

  21. “Global warming will clearly affect …”

    IF unnatural patterns can be detected within the natural patterns of PDO/AMO….

    “…what, how, and where farmers will grow food in the future as rainfall and temperature patterns shift.”

    GOOD LUCK on that!

  22. If global warming caused all the dire results that experts predict, George would be a wasteland by now. It’s is much hotter than most of the country. I once read a panicked report that said global warming would cause malaria outbreaks in the Northeast by allowing mosquitoes to survive through the winter. If that was the only factor in malaria, Florida would have a plague every year.

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