Warming brings home the value of a meal

The 2012 Plant Hardiness Zone Map unveiled by the US Department of Agriculture this year shows average annual extreme minimum temperatures based on data from 1976-2005. In this version 2012 is modified to use the same colour code as 1990. Much of the US was one 5°F (2.8°C) half-zone colder in the 1990 Plant Hardiness Zone Map compared to the latest version. Credit: US Department of Agriculture/Friend of the Earth

The 2012 Plant Hardiness Zone Map unveiled by the US Department of Agriculture this year shows average annual extreme minimum temperatures based on data from 1976-2005. In this version 2012 is modified to use the same colour code as 1990. Much of the US was one 5°F (2.8°C) half-zone colder in the 1990 Plant Hardiness Zone Map compared to the latest version. Credit: US Department of Agriculture/Friend of the Earth

Part one of two

Over the past few days I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the kind of celebrations that would have been called feasting in the past. They’ve brought home how important food is as basic fuel, a source of pleasure and a reason for friends and family to get together. This year, that importance has drawn me increasingly to research into what climate change means for our food supply. What I’ve covered only begins to scrape the surface of the effects we can expect. However, these studies highlight how life could become yet harder for farmers, and what that could cost us all.

The warming world has already noticeably changed plant growing conditions, for example shifting the regions they are suited to grow in the US. In January, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) redrew its map of planting zones to reflect warming seen since the 1990 version. Partly due to climate change, and partly due to new technology and better weather data, many places are now one 5°F (2.8°C) half-zone warmer. At around the same time, Chinese researchers found that the phases in the seasonal cycle of crop growth in their country had shifted between 1960 and 2008. Springtime events are now 6-15 days earlier and Autumn events 5-6 days later, they found.
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