What’s Up with Rising Food Prices?

Posted on Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011 by Adria Arko

It’s likely that the higher prices of your whole-grain bread haven’t gone unnoticed. According to the USDA Economic Research Service your weekly grocery basket of food is costing you about 4 to 5 percent more than it did this time last year.  Even with these prices, compared to what food shoppers in other parts of the world are experiencing, we are getting off lucky.

According to a recent report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) global food prices have risen 37 percent from mid-2010.  What’s behind the steep rise in food prices? There are a number of different factors, but studies are showing that an important contributor to high food prices is climate change.

For the past several years, higher temperatures, a shift in seasons, more extreme weather events, including flooding and droughts, are hurting food production. The result of which is an unmet demand for food staples, resulting in higher food prices.

Many of the recent failed harvests around the world that have led to food shortages and higher prices were a result of weather disasters. This year, drought in China followed by devastating floods disrupted world wheat production.  Last year, blistering heat waves in Europe and Russia led to fires that engulfed many agricultural fields and limited world food supplies. Many scientists believe that some of these intense weather events were caused or worsened by human-induced climate change.

A recently released study links human greenhouse gas emissions with extreme rainfall in the Northern Hemisphere. Extreme rain events can reduce yields and sometimes can ruin a whole harvest. This, of course, can impact the global food supply, driving up food prices.

Extreme rain events aren’t the only way that agriculture is being impacted by climate change.  Harvests have been negatively impacted by rising temperatures. Researchers have recently compared crop yields to rising temperatures. The result? Lower yields. When corn experiences temperatures of 84 degrees and soy 86 degrees, yields can fall dramatically.

While beach-goers may be celebrating the warmer days, farmers are struggling to keep their production levels high, which may be reason to worry.

The issue of climate change and its impacts on agriculture has real consequences for food shoppers around the world and at home.  Food prices are up.  And with it comes greater instability, poverty and for many, thinner pocket books during already tough economic times.

That’s why California, as our leading agricultural state, must embrace a plan that leads us toward assisting agriculture in addressing climate change and its impacts.  We need better research, technical experts to help in the fields and conservation-oriented programs to assist farmers in addressing what’s to come – less water, changes in weather patterns and new pests – to name a few.

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