Top 5 Technologies That Help Farmers Respond to Climate Change
October 29, 2014
Farmers everywhere are facing a major challenge. They must adapt to changing climate conditions – such as increased frequency of drought, extreme temperatures and flooding – while also reducing their environmental footprint. Check out these five technologies that are helping farmers maintain and increase productivity despite changing climates.
Avoiding tillage keeps moisture, organic matter and nutrients in the soil, making farm fields more fertile. No-till farming moderates the effects of climate change by preventing soil erosion during floods and slowing water evaporation during years of drought. By reducing tillage, farmers are also reducing their use of fossil fuels since they make fewer passes over the field with farm equipment. The United Nations Environmental Program estimates that no-till farms in the U.S. have helped avoid 241 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide emissions since the 1970s – equivalent to the annual emissions of about 50 million cars.
With temperatures on the rise due to global warming, heat waves are putting our crops and food security at risk. Plant scientists are evaluating new genetic traits that can boost a crop’s heat tolerance. For example, the University of Florida has developed heat-stable traits that showed a yield increase in hot conditions. In their tests, wheat yields increased by 38 percent, rice yields by 23 percent and maize yields by 68 percent.
Drought is the single greatest threat to farms around the world, as agriculture requires more water than any other industry on earth. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that by 2025 approximately 480 million people in Africa could be living in areas of water scarcity. To prepare for this challenge, plant scientists are researching drought tolerant traits. For example, the Water-Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, which brings together public and private sector researchers, is developing ways to double maize yields through conventional and marker-assisted breeding and plant biotechnology.
Climate change is pushing pests and diseases into new geographic areas where they are attacking crops and threatening the global food supply. Up to 40 percent of the world’s crops are already lost to insects, diseases and weeds, but without crop protection, these losses would double. Thanks to crop protection products, farmers have continued to increase their yields despite the evolving threat of pests and disease.
Nitrogen fertilizers contribute to high crop yields, and it’s one way farmers are able to grow more food on existing farmland. However, if too much fertilizer is applied to a field, the excess run-off can find its way into surrounding land and water. To protect the environment and local habitats, plant scientists are developing nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE) traits. This technology will enable farmers to apply less nitrogen fertilizer without sacrificing yields. In a U.S. trial, NUE canola plants grown with just half of the typical application of nitrogen yielded just as high as conventional varieties.