(Repeats story issued on Friday, June 10 with no change in
text; Read this story in a PDF: r.reuters.com/nyp99r)
* Global effort to double crop yields, make them climate
* Food consumption outpacing farm output in more prosperous
* Food prices seen doubling in 20 years amid rising social
* Evidence climate change already depressing crop yields
* Call for new agronomy revolution, especially for
By David Fogarty
CANBERRA, June 10 Charlie Bragg gazes across his
lush fields where fat lambs are grazing, his reservoirs filled
with water, and issues a sigh of relief. Things are normal this
year and that's a bit unusual of late.
His 7,000-acre farm near the Australian town of Cootamundra
is testament to the plight facing farmers around the globe:
increasingly wilder weather is making food production more
unpredictable. It's the new normal they must prepare for.
Bragg's farm in New South Wales state has been in the family
for generations and has weather records for the area stretching
back 110 years. After seven years of costly drought, the weather
switched last year to unseasonably wet with flooding rains.
"It's screaming to me that things are getting hotter and
drier at different times of the year," said the 40-year-old
Bragg during a recent visit to his property, about two hours
drive to the west of Canberra, the Australian capital.
"Our summers are getting wetter and if this trend continues,
then we will have to find different means of farming," he said.
Across the globe, rising temperatures and more intense
droughts, floods and storms are forcing a rethink in how to grow
food, from breeding hardier crop varieties and changing planting
times to complete genetic overhauls of plants.
Growing populations, changing diets and insatiable demand
for grains, meat and vegetables is putting pressure on global
food production and prices like never before.
Soaring food prices, civil unrest and worries about weather
have spurred a global race to create more productive crops that
can thrive in a warmer -- and more prosperous -- world.
The World Bank estimates 925 million people are hungry in
the world today. The figure has been rising since 1995-97 due to
rising food prices, a succession of economic crises, and a
neglect of agricultural innovation, especially relevant to the
It is going to get much worse for the hungry because global
food prices will more than double within 20 years, aid agency
Oxfam International said in a June 1 report. Flat-lining yields,
a scramble for fertile land and water, and environmental crises
are reversing decades of progress against hunger, it said.
The challenge is to speed up the creation of new crops more
adaptable to climate change and capable of much greater yields.
A laboratory in the leafy heart of Canberra could hold some of
Inside, hundreds of seedlings on a conveyor belt file
through a high-tech chamber, each plant bar-coded and scanned
for signs of genetic superiority. A selection process that took
months in the past, now takes a fraction of the time.
"I call this digital agriculture," said plant scientist Bob
Furbank of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial
Research Organisation (CSIRO). The 3-metre high PlantScan
chamber uses 3D laser radar and other devices to measure size,
growth and water use.
"It's like the plant Olympics. We have to rapidly pick the
best of the best," Furbank, scientific director of CSIRO's Plant
Phenomics centre in Canberra, said on a recent visit to the
laboratory brimming with high-tech equipment after a
multi-million dollar refit.
The centre is part of renewed global efforts to
create a new generation of crops that will dramatically boost
yields, particularly for wheat and rice.
Investment into creating a new generation of staple crops,
especially wheat and rice, has lagged since the Green Revolution
of the 1960s, which led to years of bumper harvests, easing
worries about lack of food.
The new green revolutionaries must find ways of doubling
yields as the global population, set to hit 7 billion later this
year, heads for 9 billion by 2050, with greater affluence
changing diets and triggering ever greater demand.
THE HEAT IS ON
To feed 2 billion more mouths by 2050, food production will
have to increase by 70 percent, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) says.
Climate change is perhaps the greatest threat to meeting the
target as rising temperatures and droughts dry out farmlands or
more intense floods and storms inundate them.
"What we expect in the future is there will be much more
unexpected events, much more extreme climate change," said
Concepcion Calpe, a senior economist with the FAO in Rome.
Boosting yields has become almost an obsession with
governments, seed companies such as Syngenta and Monsanto, and
scientific bodies such as Australia's CSIRO.
Global yield growth of wheat and rice has stagnated at 0.6
percent to 0.7 percent annually over the past 10 years -- about
half the production growth rate of 1.2 to 1.4 percent annually
needed from now to 2050, the FAO says.
Scientists say they are running out of time to boost yields.
With greenhouse gas emissions rising quickly, the world is
already on track to exceed a 2 degrees Celsius threshold that
scientists say risks triggering dangerous climate change. The
planet has already warmed about 0.8 degrees Celsius on average
Unless emissions growth is slammed into hard reverse, the
world could be 2 to 3 degrees warmer on average by 2050, and
much more by 2100.
Computer climate models show large areas of Australia,
Africa, the United States, eastern Brazil and southern Europe
drying out in the coming decades. But Russia, Canada and
Indochina would become wetter, potentially benefiting crop
production or allowing new crops to be grown in previously
Overall, for many major cereal crop-growing regions, the
future will hinge on drought and heat-tolerant varieties, better
weather forecasts and a likely shift in cropping to new areas.
A U.S. study published last month in the journal
Science found climate change was already exerting a considerable
drag on the yield growth of crops.
The authors used crop yield models with and without changes
in temperature and rainfall to show global falls in wheat output
of 5.5 percent and 3.8 percent for corn as a result of climate
change from 1980-2008.
That was equivalent to the entire annual corn crop of
Mexico, or the wheat crop of France, the European Union's
biggest producer, it said.
SEEDS OF CHANGE
The global forecast is for increasingly bad weather, amid
spiralling demand from an expanding global middle class.
"2.5 billion people entering the world's middle class is a
lot more important than climate change," said Jeffrey Currie,
global head of commodities for Goldman Sachs in London.
The World Bank's food price index, which measures global
prices, jumped 36 percent in April from a year ago to near its
2008 peak, before dropping again.
"While it might not be the primary cause, it definitely is an
underlying cause for some of the instability you're seeing in
North Africa and the Middle East right now," said Rick Leach,
chief executive of the World Food Program USA. "The very poor
can spend up to 80 percent of their income on food," he said,
adding: "We're now moving into a period of extreme worry in
terms of the implications of food price increases."
More than 680 million people in Asia and the Pacific region
live on less than US$1.25 a day, the International Fund for
Agricultural Development, a U.N. agency, says. More than 70 per
cent of these are in South Asia -- Bangladesh, India, Nepal and
Pakistan -- making the region among the most vulnerable to food
price inflation and climate