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Switching Crops Could Be the Answer to Potential Food Shortages

By LIDA TUNESI

Switching and relocating crops could be an important part of addressing climate change-related food concerns, new research suggests.

The research, authored by Professor Naresh Devineni (City College of New York) and James Rising at the London School of Economics, appears in Nature Communications.

Their results suggest a framework for figuring out how best to apply “crop switching” in the U.S., which the authors say could be one piece of a larger puzzle for maintaining our food supply. Devineni and Rising found that, as the land and weather change, switching out where different crops are grown could reduce projected crop losses by up to half.

Scientists know that one of climate change’s major impacts will be a decrease in food production, but the changes won’t be straightforward. The new paper presents a model that takes into account different temperature changes and water deficits for different regions. The authors explain that their model improves upon others “by providing estimates of the potential for crops as they move into new areas.”

The reality of this solution will be complicated, the authors note. Farmers would need to uproot their lives to relocate. Crop switching would also disrupt supply chains and local habitats. Future research will need to look at things like the limits of irrigation expansion, unforeseen weather shocks, and the impacts of crop failures.

Even so, the work provides a starting point. It shows that crop switching should be considered as an option as we fight the effects of human carbon emissions.

“Our results show considerable potential from crop switching to avoid some of the damages from climate change,” the study says, noting that this strategy “is not a panacea and that new seed varieties and new adaptation practices are needed to support farmers and meet the food demands of the future.”