Climate change poses many challenges for the agricultural industry, which is highly dependent on the weather. The temperature, the amount of rainfall, the intensity of the wind and many other factors can influence whether farms are cost-effective and efficient.
Scientists predict that if climate change continues at its current rate, it may cause agriculture productivity to decline by 17% by 2050. The main cause is the predicted increase in temperature and the change in rainfall patterns. This could significantly reduce the harvest of healthy crops, while also impacting on the areas suitable for growing fresh produce.
Research suggests that climate change could affect the population as early as 2030, driving an estimated 100 million people worldwide into a more impoverished situation, primarily due to a reduced global crop yield of around 5%. By 2080, if the warnings aren't heeded, it's predicted that crop yield will drop by as much as 30%.
A predicted one-metre rise in sea levels could mean some coastal regions will be lost for agricultural use. Some regions could be hit hard as people lose their livelihood. Significantly different weather patterns will cause shorter growing seasons, leading to other changes that will pose new challenges, particularly for smallholder farmers.
However, it's not all doom and gloom and the good news is that scientists believe farmers can adapt to the expected change in weather conditions. Some farmers are already adopting sustainable farming methods, enabling them to produce more food and continue running an efficient business model, despite climate change.
The agricultural system can adapt more effectively to climate change if it diversifies, so instead of focusing either on crops or livestock, farmers are increasingly combining the two into an integrated system. There are four common combinations that many farmers are adopting: crops and livestock; crops, livestock and forestry; crops and forestry; or livestock and forestry.
Integrated systems can produce food and other products in the same area, either at the same time or in rotation. Scientists believe that diverse agricultural methods can also improve the local micro-climate, increasing precipitation and water availability and reducing the local temperature over time.
Sustainable farming makes the farm more resilient, reducing soil erosion, improving productivity and providing additional benefits, such as increasing the number of products the farmer can produce, either to sell or for subsistence.
A major problem for farmers is pasture degradation. Adverse weather conditions can cause the quality of the pastures to deteriorate, making the land prone to erosion. Land in this condition tends to produce less nutritious grass to feed the livestock, so it contributes to less productive livestock farming.
There are numerous different ways of rehabilitating degraded pastures. The usual way involves the addition of fertilisers, but this may not be sustainable for farmers, as the pastures can require new fertiliser applications every four years. Pastures can be recovered more sustainably by planting new grass or native forage, or by planting trees to combat soil erosion. The trees will also counter carbon emissions.
Improving the pasture can contribute to more sustainable ways of raising livestock and will enhance the animals' well-being with better feed. The higher quality pastures fare better against heatwaves and drought and will be more resilient should a natural disaster occur.
Agroforestry is a sustainable method of farming that integrates crops and trees in a specially designed system, where each plant is chosen for a particular purpose. They are chosen so that they will collaborate, rather than competing with each other. Choosing a diversity of crops and trees will ensure the area is productive throughout the year.
This means even small farmers can earn an income in all seasons, rather than just in the summer months. An agroforestry system can be an important tool when it comes to climate change. Research has found that it produces benefits for the local climate, as it can reduce the impact of extreme weather, such as heavy rain, floods, heatwaves, cold snaps and drought. It improves the soil, attracts pollinators and improves biodiversity.
Practices such as these can provide a potential path for farmers not only in the UK but around the world, to move to a more resilient system of low-carbon agriculture. The aim is to produce enough food sustainably to feed people while looking after the land at the same time.
In an environment where the impact of climate change is already being felt, it's vital to protect farmers and the agriculture industry by finding a sustainable model for business.
Adapting farms to combat climate change is the best policy for the environment and also the economy. Reducing the risks of damage from extreme weather is important in terms of the financial institutions which deal with agriculture businesses' credit and insurance companies, as it can reduce losses.
These factors are particularly important for smallholder farmers, who are often on the front line of climate change, yet don't have the same financial cushion against problems that the bigger farms have. Any operational issues that disrupt their day-to-day life can have a hugely negative impact, as they are more vulnerable. Building better climate resilience is the key to stop their business from potentially having financial issues in the future.
Have a plan
Regardless of the size of their business, people in the agriculture industry must have an action plan in place to deal with anything that climate change may throw at them. They need to draw up a sound business management plan now that can be adapted in line with projections for the immediate and long-term future.
In doing so, the farms will be better-placed to operate more efficiently, save money, increase their food output, combat food shortages and reduce their impact on the climate. By starting with a baseline assessment, farmers can get a picture of how their business operates and how it can be run more efficiently, even when producing more food than at present.
In the future, agricultural jobs may change in line with the changing working practices of sustainable farming. New skills may have to be learned to keep up with advances in the industry. Similarly, ground-care jobs may also adapt to incorporate new methods of cultivating the land, in line with climate change.
Running a farm more efficiently means producing less greenhouse gas emissions and improving its carbon footprint. Keeping a close track of the weather in relation to farm data can help those in the agriculture sector to predict future patterns and plan more effectively with this in mind.
If you're looking for work in the agricultural sector, Agricultural Recruitment Specialists can help you find the right niche in the UK, Europe and beyond. We can assist in finding which doors are open for you with your specific background and even advice on what you could do to improve your prospects.
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