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Forecast Grim for Wheat Production as Temperatures Rise
December 12, 2012

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Recent changes in climate have highlighted a growing trend of increasing temperatures in areas of the world that grow staples like wheat, corn, and rice. Between them, these three grains feed much of the world's population.

A report by the International Food Policy Research Institute forecast a drop in worldwide wheat production of up to 27 percent by 2050, as temperature gradually rise across the planet. Wheat is particularly susceptible in temperature increases and grows best in climates cooler than those endured by much of the United States' wheat-producing states in the 2012 summer. The worst drought in 50 years continues to affect 60 percent of the country, because of lower rainfalls. Already, yields of wheat, soybeans, corn, and a host of other crops are down, resulting in higher food prices around the world and higher rates of world hunger. The U.S. is far and away the highest producer of corn, and forecasts for that crop are very low.

Scientists have sounded the alarm for several crops but in particular wheat, which is a necessary ingredient in two of the world's most prevalent foods, bread and pasta. Bread is made from several varieties of wheat; pasta, on the other hand, is made almost exclusively from durum wheat, which grows quite well in areas having cooler temperatures.

Scientists have predicted that the world's leading wheat belts will begin to suffer through a hotter summer than the current hottest-ever summer every other year. Those areas currently include large parts of Australia, Canada, China, India, Russia, and the U.S.

Some climate-based agricultural shift is already under way, with farmers in several countries pulling up roots and moving to where the growing is now better. That's not always an option, however, given that projected "new" growing areas might already be bases of other operations, agricultural or otherwise.

One strategy now being employed in some countries is an increase of current production. That means more water, which, in some cases, is in increasingly short supply. Such is already the case for countries like India, which has the world's second-largest population and a corresponding demand for wheat. India is also a large producer of wheat, to feed its population of more than 1 billion people, but most of that wheat production is already irrigated. Higher temperatures in already hot India could lead to even greater demands on the country's water supply.

Shortages are forecast for rice as well. Rice needs lots of water to grow. Already, in China, India, and other rice-producing nations, climate change has caused shifts in production methods and locations.

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