UK adaptations: Food resources
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Professor Iain Stewart explains that, because the UK imports food from many countries, climate change impacts on food security abroad could affect the UK as well. We may decide to adapt by growing more of our own food, and may be assisted by initial positive effects of warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons. However, if drier conditions become more prevalent – especially in the Southeast – UK farmers may need to adapt by changing the types of crops they grow and implementing more efficient irrigation methods.
Animals are affected by hot weather. Livestock affected by heat tend to eat less and reduce physical activity, decreasing their fertility, fitness and life span. In upland Britain elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could lead to more bracken and tor grass in pastureland. These aren’t very nutritious for grazing animals. Poor nutrition could lead to a decline in the amount of milk produced by dairy cows. So farmers may need to introduce food supplements and find new ways of ensuring their livestock can keep cool and hydrated. A farm in Devon has started using frozen lollies stuffed with carrots to help its pigs adapt to the heat. Farmers could also increase the shade on farmland by planting more trees. This would have additional benefits, such as increasing water infiltration and reducing flood risk in high rainfall. Trees also absorb CO2 and improve air and water quality.
As temperatures rise, UK farmers may decide to change to types of crops better suited to warmer conditions. Crops that flourish in temperate climates such as the UK’s may be replaced by those more commonly imported from warmer regions. Farmers are already diversifying their crop varieties in parts of southern England. One farm in Devon has planted 300 trees including almonds, walnuts and sharon fruits. And in 2005 the UK’s first commercial harvest of apricots was grown at a farm in Kent and sold in a national supermarket. Grapes have been grown in the UK for some time, but the number of vineyards could increase as the climate warms.
Rising temperatures and longer growing seasons may present UK farmers with an opportunity to grow new varieties of crops such as apricots, walnuts and other similar species suited to warmer climates. Apricots and walnuts have the added benefit of being more resistant to prolonged dry spells. So growing more of these and similar crops could be an effective way of adapting if drier conditions become more prevalent – especially in the Southeast. UK farmers are also considering ways of implementing more efficient irrigation methods, aiming to grow more food using less water. Some scientists are also proposing the use of genetically modified crops or strains bred to be more resistant to drought.
Mark Diacono is the owner of the UK’s first climate change farm. Growing a variety of crops including pecans, apricots and peppers, Mark’s farm shows the range of new crops it’s possible to grow in the changing climate.
‘By demonstrating the crops which can be grown, the farm can help people diversify and adapt to the climate change we are already committed to,’ says Mark.
Mark’s work is also helping to reduce emissions. ‘Many of the crops grown on the farm are already widely imported in the UK and by growing these otherwise imported foods the farm can help reduce carbon emissions, helping to address the acceleration of climate change in the process.’