Climate change has cut global farming productivity 21% since 1960s

Despite important agricultural advancements to feed the world in the past 60 years, a Cornell-led study shows that global farming productivity is 21% lower than it could have been without climate change. This is the equivalent of losing about seven years of farm productivity increases since the 1960s.

The future potential impacts of climate change on global crop production has been quantified in many scientific reports, but the historic influence of anthropogenic climate change on the agricultural sector had yet to be modeled.

Now, a new study provides these insights: “Anthropogenic Climate Change Has Slowed Global Agricultural Productivity Growth,” published in Nature Climate Change, was led by economist Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, associate professor in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell.

“We find that climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years,” Ortiz-Bobea said. “It is equivalent to pressing the pause button on productivity growth back in 2013 and experiencing no improvements since then. Anthropogenic climate change is already slowing us down.”

The scientists and economists developed an all-encompassing econometric model linking year-to-year changes in weather and productivity measures with output from the latest climate models over six decades to quantify the effect of recent human-caused climate change on what economists call “total factor productivity,” a measure capturing overall productivity of the agricultural sector.

Ortiz-Bobea said they considered more than 200 systematic variations of the econometric model, and the results remained largely consistent.

“When we zoom into different parts of the world, we find that the historical impacts of climate change have been larger in areas already warmer, including parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia,” he said.

Humans have already altered the climate system, Ortiz-Bobea said, as climate science indicates the globe is about 1 degree Celsius warmer than without atmospheric greenhouse gases.

“Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem,” Ortiz-Bobea said. “But this is something that is already having an effect. We have to address climate change now so that we can avoid further damage for future generations.”

Cornell funding was provided by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.

Journal Reference:

  1. Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, Toby R. Ault, Carlos M. Carrillo, Robert G. Chambers, David B. Lobell. Anthropogenic climate change has slowed global agricultural productivity growthNature Climate Change, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41558-021-01000-1

Source:  ScienceDaily

Peanut butter company to trial growing peanuts in Northland

Pic’s Peanut Butter has launched a project to investigate the feasibility of growing peanuts commercially in Northland, with backing from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

The $91,320 project is led by Picot Productions and the ministry is contributing more than $59,000 through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund. Research expertise is being provided by Plant & Food Research.

The project will trial growing peanuts in three locations – at Ruawai on a kumara farm, at Poutu Peninsular near Dargaville, and on Māori land in the Kai Iwi Lakes district. If successful, peanut farming could bring new employment opportunities to the Northland region.

“We’ve selected 3 locations with different soil types and environments to see where the peanuts grow best,” says Declan Graham, business manager – science at Plant & Food Research, which is managing the project trials.

“A soil temperature of around 18 degrees is ideal, so the window for getting the peanuts in the ground and harvesting them is small.” Continue reading

Primary industry export prospects are looking bright after a tough year

Economic prospects for the primary sector are bright despite the significant challenges from COVID-19,  Agriculture, Trade and Export Growth Minister Damien O’Connor said when commenting on the latest Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries report.

Food and fibre export revenue of more than $47.5 billion is forecast for the year ending June 2021 and a record $49.2 billion the following year.

Mr O’Connor said this strong performance is testament to the sector’s ability to adapt to keep businesses operating and workers in jobs.

He said the star performers this year include the horticulture sector.

“Its export revenue is forecast to hit nearly $7.1 billion, an increase of 8.9 percent from the previous year. It’s driven by successful harvests in early 2020 and continued strong demand for our fresh fruit and wine.

“Further increases in export revenue of 5.3 percent are expected for the arable sector for the year ending June 2021, on the back of a bumper 23 percent increase the previous year.”

Forestry Minister Stuart Nash says forestry exports show good signs of recovery.  Strong demand for logs from China and for sawn timber from the United States is driving this recovery. Continue reading

Dr Trevor Stuthridge on agriculture post-COVID – his optimism is echoed by MPI and primary sector Ministers

On the same day that Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said primary sector exports are on track to grow by $1.7 billion on last year, helping underpin NZ’s Covid-19 recovery, AgResearch has posted an article by Dr Trevor Struthbridge, in which he expresses optimism about New Zealand’s agriculture sector.

Dr Struthbridge’s article has been reproduced from Farmers Weekly.

He has written:

Amid all of the disruption and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, some bright lights have shone through that provide reason for optimism for New Zealand in a post-pandemic world.

One has been the performance of our agriculture sector, which has stoically carried on through the health crisis – ensuring a safe, quality food supply to New Zealanders, and maintaining crucial earnings from our export markets.

Another has been the level of public trust placed in our scientists – particularly in the health sciences – and how those scientists have stepped up to provide the best advice to keep New Zealanders safe and guide our country through this. Continue reading

Primary industry exports forecast to be up $4.5bn this year

The primary industries are forecast to inject more than 42 billion export dollars into New Zealand’s economy this year, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said today when the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Situation and Outlook report for June 2018 was launched at the 50th Fieldays at Mystery Creek.

This was $4.5 billion more than last year, a good sign that the primary sectors as a whole are in good nick, despite some tough times, the Minister said.

“It’s also testament to the importance of the primary sectors – not only are they the engine of New Zealand’s economy, they bring jobs and security for tens of thousands of people, and support rural communities up and down the country.”

The successful year had been led by value growth in the three largest sectors, dairy, meat and forestry, all of which have posted double-digit growth over the year.

The report also highlights the importance of moving up the value chain with infant formula exports expected to reach $1.2 billion, up 53 per cent on the previous year.

The Minister said this growth had been all the more impressive when the many challenges that agribusinesses had faced over the year were considered. These included the fight against Mycoplasma bovis, which has highlighted the urgent need to strengthen our biosecurity systems.

The weather had also been a challenge – a wet spring, followed by drought conditions in the summer, broken by two significant cyclones in February.

“There is plenty of opportunity for New Zealand exports to continue to grow, but to do so we need to get closer to our consumers and work smarter, not harder,” Mr O’Connor said.

“The Government is committed to productivity growth for a future-proofed primary sector and that means we want to get more from what we do now, not just do more.

“The vision, energy and innovation that has always characterised our primary industries will hold us in good stead as we rise to this challenge.”

The recently established Primary Sector Council – developing a sector-wide vision – had a significant role to play in driving more sustainability in farming practice, Mr O’Connor said.

Source: Minister of Agriculture

Lab meat on the menu in restaurants by the end of the year?


But where’s the “clean” stuff?

Meat grown in a laboratory could be on restaurant menus by the end of the year, according to a manufacturer’s claim reported by The Independent 

The implications for New Zealand food production of in vitro animal products, sometimes referred to as “clean meat”, have been reported in AgScience here and here.

These products are made from stem cells harvested via biopsy from living livestock, which are then grown in a lab over a number of weeks.

The Independent report (citing reports in CNN and the Guardian) says –

Some environmentalists believe the process could be the key to reducing global warming, with one study predicting it could lower harmful greenhouse emissions by 96 per cent.

And the first products could be available for human consumption within months, according to Josh Tetrick, CEO of clean meat manufacturer JUST.

Chicken nuggets, sausage and foie gras created using the technique could be served in restaurants in the US and Asia “before the end of 2018”, he told CNN.

But public perception and a reluctance to diverge from traditional farmed meat still represent considerable hurdles for the clean meat industry to overcome, he said.

“Gnarly problems, communication issues, regulatory issues,” would have to be solved before products went to market, he said in a separate interview with The Guardian.

The report also quotes Professor Mark Post, chief scientific officer at Mosa Meat, whose lab based at Maastricht University in the Netherlands was responsible for creating the world’s first cultured hamburger.

Professor Post said the regulatory approval process could delay samples being distributed to suppliers by years.

He gave a time frame of three years before the company could sell its first product to the mass market.

But The Independent goes on to note a recent study’s findings  that one-third of Americans would be willing to eat clean meat regularly or as a replacement for farmed meat.

To reach that point, companies will have to bring down the cost of mass production.

Memphis Meats, a food technology company based in San Francisco, has to spend around $2,400 (£1,800) to make 450 grams of beef.

But as techniques become more streamlined, the price is falling, and the company believes it will be able to send the first products to market by 2021.

The animal rights charity, Peta, has been investing in in vitro meat research for the past six years.


Burgers without beef and other synthetic foodstuffs – what it all means for NZ


Yum … this is the first hamburger made entirely from cell-cultured beef in Dr Mark Post’s laboratory at Maastricht University, but you might have gagged on the €250,000 price-tag.  

The future of food – especially the emergence of “synthetic foods” and what this might mean for New Zealand as a major food producer – was among the issues raised in our previous post (HERE). It also has been addressed in media articles and BBQ conversations this summer.

Tom Richardson is chief executive of AgResearch, a Crown research institute dedicated to growing the value of New Zealand’s agri-food sector. He is confident the science organisation is highly attuned to both the challenges and opportunities posed by the new food technologies.


Dr Tom Richardson is optimistic about the future of NZ’s traditional food exports.

He recently wrote an opinion piece (HERE) which looks into the threats from synthetic foods – and the opportunities.

He starts with an expression of confidence in the future of meat and dairy products.

From where we sit, the claims of an impending collapse of New Zealand’s traditional food exports in the face of this alternative protein revolution just don’t reflect what we are seeing and experiencing.

But he also recognises the pace of development of new products.

There is no question the technology to produce “synthetic foods” (including animal cell culture to produce meats and milk without animal farming, and plant-based substitutes that emulate the taste, smell and texture of animal products) is advancing rapidly.

Those advances are dramatically improving the quality of these products whilst at the same time reducing costs.  In the last four years, the cost of cell cultured meat patties has dropped from US$325,000 to US$12 and Impossible Foods is now able to produce four million plant-based protein burgers a month, and selling them in restaurants at the same price as a premium meat burger (around US$15).

As we seek to feed a global population heading beyond nine billion by 2050, we need a host of sustainable food production systems. These new technologies, and others not yet in development, will be an important component of our global food system, and more and more of us will meet some portion of our dietary requirements through them.

And in fact I think NZ can carve out its own niches in “synthetic foods” – which we will see play out over time.

Continue reading

Shaping the future of what we eat and grow through daring innovation

The future of food and the alternative ways to feed a growing global population will be the focus of a plant-based innovation hackathon in Christchurch on December 2 and 3.

The Feed the World 2030: Power of Plants Hackathon will provide a platform for agritech food innovators, scientists, industry experts and entrepreneurs to engage and start to shape New Zealand’s agricultural platforms.

Lincoln Hub is teaming up with the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR), AGMARDT, Callaghan Innovation, Lincoln University and Creative HQ to create this event to enable new connections to broaden innovation in New Zealand’s agrifood system.

Toni Laming, Lincoln Hub Chief Executive, says, “Lincoln Hub is excited to be teaming up with key agrifood innovation leaders to create new kinds of collaborations and innovation in the Agrifood tech field which is expanding globally. Many innovations and advancements are happening at a rapid pace to create the foods we eat and is fundamentally reshaping how we farm and cultivate crops to reduce the impact we have on our ecosystem.

The hackathon format will allow teams to form around new ideas and develop customer-centric solutions.

For more information on the event and how to participate in the Feed the World 2030: Power of Plants Hackathon, visit HERE.

Lincoln Hub will also host a ‘What the heck is a hackathon, anyway?’ seminar on 26 October for those wanting to find out more about the event. The event is free but people are asked to register here:

Ministers welcome Mt Albert Grammar School AgriFood centre

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy and Associate Minister for Primary Industries Louise Upston have welcomed the beginning of construction on a new centre to showcase the best of the primary sector in the heart of Auckland.

Mount Albert Grammar School’s farm, established in 1932, will be transformed into a centre of primary sector excellence showing urban Kiwis the best technology, innovation, practices and research in New Zealand and the world.

The AgriFood Experience Centre will highlight the wide range of careers in the primary sector and create new connections in our biggest city, Mr Guy says.

Ms Upston says this will help raise awareness of the wide range of different and exciting careers in the primary sector “and encourage students to consider a career in this crucial industry”.

Nearly two billion people are shown to be dependent on imported food

Researchers at Aalto University have shown a broad connection between resource scarcity, population pressure and food imports in a study published in Earth’s Future.

The earth’s capacity to feed its growing population has long been a topic of global discussion but previous research has not previously clearly demonstrated this connection.

The researchers performed a global analysis focusing on regions where water availability restricts production and examined the period from 1961 to  2009, evaluating the extent to which the growing population pressure was met by increasing food imports.

The researchers’ work combined modelled data with FAO statistics and took into consideration increases in production efficiency resulting from technological development. The analysis showed that in 75% of resource scarce regions, food imports began to rise as the region’s own production became insufficient.

Even less wealthy regions relied on the import strategy — but not always successfully.

According to the research, the food security of about 1.4 billion people has become dependent on imports and an additional 460 million people live in areas where increased imports are not enough to compensate for the lack of local production.

The big issue, says co-author Dr Joseph Guillaume, is that people may not even be aware that they have chosen dependency on imports over further investment in local production or curbing demand.

“It seems obvious to look elsewhere when local production is not sufficient, and our analysis clearly shows that is what happens. Perhaps that is the right choice, but it should not be taken for granted.”

The international food system is sensitive and price and production shocks can spread widely and undermine food security — especially in poorer countries that are dependent on imports. As a result, further investments in raising production capacity could be a viable alternative. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa and India, there are opportunities to sustainably improve food production by, for example, more efficient use of nutrients and better irrigation systems.

Postdoctoral researcher Miina Porkka emphasises that the solutions will ultimately require more than just increasing food production.

“Keeping food demand in check is the key issue. Controlling population growth plays an essential role in this work, but it would also be important to enhance production chains by reducing food waste and meat consumption. Since one quarter of all the food produced in the world is wasted, reducing this would be really significant on a global level.”

This post is based on information provided by Aalto University.