More droughts, more floods, a significant decline in the biodiversity of plants, insects and vertebrates – agriculture is particularly affected by the consequences of global warming. It is also particularly called upon to develop strategies on how best to deal with change. The problems are complex. There are no simple solutions, but promising approaches already exist.
Today, the combination of extreme weather events and long-term trends such as rising temperatures or changing precipitation patterns is already affecting the agricultural sector and global food security. They are affecting the cultivation of rice, wheat and maize and have already reduced yields in some parts of the world. To prevent this trend from intensifying as temperatures continue to rise, the agricultural sector needs to adapt to climate change. There are already numerous approaches to this problem.
Agriculture particularly challenged
Prof. Klaus Josef Lutz, CEO of BayWa AG and responsible for Corporate Sustainability, outlines the challenge: "It was only through the global trade in goods that in the summer of 2018 there was no famine in Central Europe from drought and crop failures; this would certainly have been the case 200 years ago. But now climate change is a global phenomenon – that is, if the weather changes everywhere such that crop failures become more frequent, we can no longer simply solve our problems by increasing imports. What happens then? The problems are complex, and we are well advised to take this complexity seriously and to differentiate it, rather than look for simple solutions."
Developing adaptation strategies
In Germany, for example, the range of solutions extends from new crop species and adapted varieties to insurance policies and innovative technology. But agriculture is also adapting to changed conditions on a global scale. This is a major challenge, especially in developing countries, where climate-related risks are greatest and where they have the least financial resources. There is therefore no universal approach – the adaptation strategies depend rather on the region, sector and respective situation. Prof. Klaus Josef Lutz: "Adaptation to climate change requires careful analysis. For example, we are working together with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and putting everything to the test. We share our insights with our customers, partners and other stakeholders. Because here, too, everything depends on all of us pulling together. We shall use our climate strategy to prepare proactively for the economic and environmental consequences of climate change and to increase the climate resilience of BayWa, our customers and partners, but also of society as a whole."
Adaptation to heat: new fruit varieties in response to rising temperatures
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines adaptation to climate change as "The process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects."
In agriculture, there is a wide range of possibilities for adaptation (see also the interview "All weathers" and the article "Protecting apples and pears") and ranges from improved crop rotation to flexible water management and the cultivation of new heat-resistant crops – all areas in which BayWa and its customers are already involved and are driving forward showcase projects worldwide. In Spain, for example. There, an initiative by Spanish fruit growers and international scientists has bred new heat-tolerant apple and pear varieties in a global cultivation programme, which BayWa's associated company T&G Global, in New Zealand, is now distributing. They are designed to withstand warmer temperatures, which cause considerable damage to numerous earlier fruit varieties and lead to poorer quality and crop failures. The cultivation of new heat-resistant varieties also offers a promising approach for other crops.
Efficient irrigation: combating drought with technical innovations
One technical answer to the increasing aridity and drought in many regions of the world (see also article "The constant drop feeds the world") is provided, for example, by the resource-saving "Variable Rain" irrigation system, which has been on the market since the end of 2018 and recently successfully passed the extensive test run at Mubuyu Farms in Zambia, Africa. Using satellite and weather data, the innovative system automatically calculates crop water demand. The results of the pilot project are impressive: farmers in Zambia used 30 percent less water and energy, while increasing grain yields by up to 25 percent.
A mixture makes the difference
There are not two ways about it: Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and affects the agricultural economy in particular – and as such, the security of the food supply for the global population. Projections from the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicate that climate change will lead to more volatile prices for agricultural commodities and lower quality in the future. "The volatility of our markets continues to increase due to the climate. We must prepare ourselves for this and not only react, but also act," predicts Prof. Klaus Josef Lutz.
If we are able to limit the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, in many places the consequences of global warming can be mitigated or even offset by farmers' adaptation strategies. The industry can also contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As the IPCC notes, consumers have influence here. One result of the study is that changing consumer behaviour could reduce agricultural emissions much more than technical measures. For example, less food would be thrown away, emission-intensive foods of animal origin (such as meat or dairy products) would be replaced by more plant products and consumed less in regions of excessive consumption.