10 Ways Climate Change Hurts Agriculture & Seafood

by Kyle Rabin

Published: 2/02/17, Last updated: 8/10/20

Climate change is having a moment. It has been thrust into the spotlight in large part by recent actions taken by the Trump team, particularly in regards to government scientists.

Climate change also received attention when data from NASA and NOAA confirmed that 2016 was the hottest year on record and that both polar ice caps were at a record low extent for the month of December.

With climate change among the issues taking center stage, there is no better time to look at the impact that climate change is having — or will have — on our food. The reality is that agriculture and fisheries are highly dependent on the climate, and any changes in climate will have a sometimes severe impact on our food.

The National Climate Assessment — which summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future, has quite a bit to say about the impacts of climate change on our food. In a nutshell, climate change poses unprecedented challenges to US agriculture because of the susceptibility of agricultural productivity and costs to changing climate conditions. And this is coming from an exceptionally reliable and respected source: The Assessment was produced by a group of more than 300 experts led by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee. The public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, carefully reviewed the Assessment.

Fisheries are also vulnerable to climate change. According to NOAA, climate change is “already having a profound effect on life in the oceans” and subsequently on our nation’s fisheries.

Here are ten things to note about how climate change affects (or will affect!) both our agriculture and our fisheries:

1. Increasing Disruptions to Agriculture

According to the National Climate Assessment, “Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to increase over the next 25 years.” By 2050 and subsequent decades, these impacts will be increasingly harmful on most crops and livestock.

2. Declines in Production

The National Climate Assessment also notes that “many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests and other climate change-induced stresses.”

3. Warming Affects Crop Yields

In regards to warming, a recent study by a group of scientists in the journal Nature found, after evaluating several crop models, that crop yields decline significantly for every day with temperatures over 86 degrees F during the growing season.

4. Loss of Agricultural Soil and Water

“Current loss and degradation of critical agricultural soil and water assets due to increasing extremes in precipitation will continue to challenge both rainfed and irrigated agriculture unless innovative conservation methods are implemented,” says the National Climate Assessment.

5. Increasing Weather Extremes

The National Climate Assessment also notes that the “rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock productivity because critical thresholds are already being exceeded.”

6. Effects on Food Security

The World Food Programme explains that climate change could potentially increase food insecurity, malnutrition and hunger via extreme weather events, sea level rise, impacts on yields, price instability and availability of food.

7. Changes in Water Temperature

According to NOAA, fisheries are currently and will continue to be affected by changes in water temperature that trigger shifts in the abundance and types of fish and other ocean life/seafood. These same temperature changes make certain waters more hospitable to invasive species and mess with the lifecycle timing and habitat ranges of certain fish species.

8. The Impact to Coral Reefs, Oysters, Mussels, Urchins and Starfish

The Smithsonian explains how ocean acidification — sometimes referred to as climate change’s evil twin — places coral reefs, oysters, mussels, urchins and starfish at risk. Not only do some of these species of sea life represent a source of high-quality protein for humans, they also underpin ocean ecosystems.

9. Impact on Commercially-Important Fish

As NOAA points out, ocean acidification is also having an impact on commercially-important fish such as salmon that feed on the smaller, more fragile life lower on the food chain that have been hit hard by ocean acidification.

10. Increasing Toxic Algal Blooms

As we’ve written about extensively, warmer waters increase the likelihood of toxic algal blooms, which can poison marine animals and humans alike, and affect seafood.

The impacts of climate change on agriculture and fisheries are already alarming and will only grow worse unless we take meaningful action now to reduce greenhouse gases across all sectors — including in the food system itself.

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